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Wild Man by Ladee Hubbard

Wild Man by Ladee Hubbard

Fiction, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009

I was cool as a hand threading a needle last Saturday when I watched my baby climb the train. Said my peace the night before so just stood by the brick building breathing good-bye. Balanced by brick, breathing good-bye. In the shadow of the building where she didn’t see me, though I was cool. When all around me I could feel them gathering—creeping around corners, counting blank spaces wedged between the boards. Watching and waiting to see how many climbed the train.

Whistle blew and I nodded my head—I got your back, baby—waving good-bye. Then thread my way back to the center of town, eye of the needle, eye of the storm. Footsteps walked by my father and his, corners mapped by veiled seasons of thunder, the dark eves of twilight, centuries of need. I wound down slaking dreams tracking the hand-me-down dawn.

That’s what she said: Running.

What you own these roads? She asked me once and shook her head. Then stretched her finger past the gathering storm, toward a sunset winding along hard metal tracks.

Ride with me, she said.

I said my peace.

Stubborn, she said. Told me that, when I told her I could find my way back. Stitch a path from out the shadow seams, gather my lamp light from the salted sea of sky. Father taught me how, and his. It stays with me and now she too stays. See her counting stars with her finger, then pushing past the horizon till there’s nothing left but a pinprick of burnished amber streaked across the steel blue night.

I said my peace. But it’s different in the dark, stalking the silence of she already gone. Left me, took the train. Whispers etched in want, in the dark blue veil of night, footsteps weaving in and out of flashes of moon beneath the shaking sky. When all around me I could feel them gathering—fingers pointed like triggers, counting gray mirrors wedged between the trees.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s always like that: always someone out there alone and walking, looking for the light. Trying to find an open door, an old woman sitting on the porch, hands reaching out, calling like comfort: come inside, brother, we been waiting for you. And you stumble in, staggered hard as hunger—still watching wheels in your mind, still missing the salt of someone else’s skin. But that old woman sits you down at her table, sets the plate before you, hands you the wooden spoon.

They gathering tonight, she whispers.

Tell your baby to tell mine to rest easy tonight. Ride that train and rest easy—keep pushing amber sunset star moving clipped flashes of light toward the hand-me-down dawn. Wild Man marks the warpath and I got your back.

Running—

Cool as a hand threading a needle through the amber eye of the night.

. . .

The Wild Man is a figure from the Mardi Gras Indians [African-American Carnival revelers] in New Orleans. He is the member of the tribe responsible for clearing a path for the Chief during confrontations with rival groups.

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