Old South Carriage Tours – Gianna Russo

Charleston is a hot shave
when Blondie collapses in the street,
crumbling to his knees, tumbling sideways,
a thousand sacks of wet flour.
He lies for hours on cobblestones hot as andirons,
big yellow horse. Earlier, he’d been harnessed
to a wagon wide as a king-sized bed
packed with a dozen king-sized gawkers.
I’d seen him dragging that carriage,
the July furnace melting every tourist.
The driver had sing-songed the history of his city,
flicked a dozen sparks across Blondie’s neck and back.
He trudged, head hanging, pulled and lugged.
As he lumbered past, I stared at his mudprints:
horseshoes plodding the wrong way,
the luck running out.

Sun flares on Saint Augustine steeples, then sinks
as I traipse a muggy side street,
slog through sticky air.
In front of Old South Carriage Tours
a stable girl hoses down a black horse,
cool water turning his coat to satin,
his mane to grosgraine tassels.
Free of harness, bridle, reins and bit,
the horse allows everything she does,
waits still as an empty urn, one on which
a muscled gelding gallops towards bronze victory,
instead of standing, head hanging,
drained muscles buckling
to chill rivulets, flicks of steam.

In swelter-dim, garage dust swirls
as Granddaddy unlocks the Impala.
I clamber over the front seat,
stare back at rusting paint cans lording over
the sooty shelves, the ruddy hood and fender.
Then we’re backing out, away
from Grandmama’s goldfish pond, her garden shed.
We’ll just get a look-see at all the commotion, he says.
All through the Heights, the Scrubs,
before the storefronts on 7th Avenue,
Tampa is yelling breaking burning—
I’m ten. It’s 1967. Folks got some strange notions.
It’s decades before I’ll understand how law
kept back door entrances and “Whites Only” pools,
the off-limits Walgreens counter and
all East Tampa clawing up from the gutter.
But even a child knows fair from fair.
Other times he might have brought a gun:
his Old South stunned by uppity and righteousness.
My grandfather pulls me close, tells me, steer,
rolls down the windows and stares.

gianna russoGianna Russo is the author of Moonflower, winner of the Florida Book Award Bronze and Florida Publishers Association Silver awards. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has had publications in Green Mountains Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, The MacGuffin, Tampa Review, Ekphrasis, Crab Orchard Review, among others. She is founding editor of YellowJacket Press and Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University.