"Cook liked to talk of voodoo dolls," he said.
"Eye whites would roll in a face as black as oak
trunks black against the white of winter snow.
He’d hunch down on the attic’s wooden floor
above Wright’s school, the farm, the valley’s trees;
then, dazzling with his white-teeth, eye-gleamed grin,
he’d brandish crudely carved, grim, ugly dolls
and chuckle in a fascinating, evil way
until, with flourish, silver pins were brought
before his visitor’s awed, frightened eyes.
"I used to squat with him in attic heat
on summer days when art was on my nerves,
and I was tired of artist politics.
Sometimes Wright and his company jarred raw
against my nerves and made me want to flee
the talk, the talk, the talk, the talk, the talk.
The huge Jamacian cook was antidote
to all the theories floating through Wright’s air.
"But he was ignorant, a braggart proud
of how he swaggered with his rear-end stuck
up in the air with buttocks swaying perked.
And often in our whispers over voodoo dolls
I felt like somehow getting back at him
for all his superstitious hate of art.
He wasn’t smart enough to realize
his touch with food had kinship to our art.
Instead, he mimiced Wright, O’Keefe, and me,
and all who came to Taliesan’s door
to deepen personalities and art.
"I wasn’t always loving Taliesan talk,
but still, I felt a loyalty to those
who were the nation’s firmanant of art.
I wanted desperately to be a firmanant myself.
"So, when the cook took off on holiday,
I made my preparations for the night
he’d swagger buttock-proud up to his room.
And when he showed up late one afternoon,
I ambushed him on Wright’s dirt parking road
and talked him into swigging at some rum.
When stars poked out the sunny eye of day
We’d both become the best of rummy pals.
"I left him just before his climb to bed
and led a goat kept in the hay-sweet barn
up on the house’s slanting, steep-pitched roof.
I slipped into the attic window, red
from rum exertion, chuckling to myself.
The cook was singing French and shouting out
that he was fine as any feathered coat,
his feet loud as they labored up the stairs.
I gasped for breath and felt the darkened room
sway from the heat, my rum, the pulsing stars,
my perilous climb onto the shingled roof,
then hunkered down behind the goose-down bed
and wailed a long, thin, ghostly, crazy wail
that pierced through walls, down stairs, into the night.
"The singing stopped. The clumping on the stairs
stopped with a suddenness that made the silence ring.
Downstairs a dozen voices babbled:
What’s wrong? What’s going on? That awful noise!
"The goat, white, ghostly in the moonlight, beard
long, straggly beneath an eye-wild face,
looked curiously into the window at the noise.
"The attic door swung open with a bang.
The cook’s white eyes poked wild into the room.
I shrieked and shouted from the grave.
The billy butted at the window pane
and shattered glass into the moonlit room.
The cook sunk to his knees as if his heart
had felt the prick of silver voodoo pins.
The goat’s face disappeared into the dark
as goat-hooves clattered wildly down the roof.
The cook got off his knees and shouted out
as if he’d seen his goatish spirit fly
toward the dark of all dark, moonish skies.
His feet slammed down the wood-loud steps
as other voices shouted loud obscenities
that didn’t have a thing to do with art.
"My laughter hurt my gut as I climbed out
from where I’d hid behind the attic’s bed
and scrambled over broken, moon-stained glass
onto the roof that slanted down from stars.
I slipped and slid as lights inside the attic room
flashed on and voices peered and poked at mystery.
I leaped down from the roof and hurt my leg
and limped excitedly into the house.
"What’s going on? I asked, my leg as hot
as branding irons. I hurt my leg I came so fast.
"The cook was sitting on the stairway’s rug,
sweat on his face, his big hands twitching-wild.
"The ghosts have come to punish me, he said.
A spirit wagged his beard into my eyes
and made me know this country’s not for me.
" Come on and have a drink of rum, I said.
The spirit’s flown off now. There’s only night
left floating through the sky. You’ll feel all right
once rum has warmed your tummy up.
"He looked at me, eyes wild with bloodshot white.
"I’ve got to go, he said. The spirit told me so.
"Wright shambled down the stairs. O’Keefe was there,
her later flowers oversized inside her eyes,
and Ruth, and teachers from that summer’s school.
"What happened? Wright demanded angrily.
There’s broken window glass; you shouted like
a man possessed and gave my heart a turn
toward the grave. What’s going on? he asked.
"The cook looked up at Wright. I’m leaving here,
he said to Wright. I’m finished with this place.
"I looked at him. He looked as wild as goats
upon a percipice above a raging sea.
Before Wright had his thoughts in place, the cook
got up and ran outside into the night.
I followed him and grabbed his swinging arm
just as he reached his car. He turned to me,
eyes white, teeth white against his night-dark skin.
"I want to say that you’ve been good to me,
he said. You’re not so knotted in your art
that you can’t take a drink of rum with cook.
"I shook my head. I was the ghost, I said.
I scared you just to make you feel a joke.
He shook his head. I saw the ghost,
he said. His eyes grew round. Its eyes were round
and big as moons. It had two horns as big
as tree trunks sticking up into a big blue sky.
Its tongue breathed fire. Its voice roared like a storm
gone mad with howling wind. It was a ghost.
Not you Jim. Only I can see a ghost so well.
"I had a goat up on the roof, I said.
The goat was what you thought a tongue-fired ghost.
"He shook his head, then shook my hand, his eyes
as sober and as serious as a man’s
eyes stunned by trafficking with roaring ghosts,
then got into his ancient Chevrolet
and peeled its tires in haste to get away."
Jim looked at me, his story done, his eyes
bright with his thoughts. "I’ve never been so sad
in all my life," he said. "The cook drove off
and left me standing underneath a sky
sprayed splendid with a billion, billion stars."