Terri Kirby Erickson – Three Poems

Crystal Clear

She’s the girl sitting in a row of fake leather seats beside
a bald man unwrapping a pastrami sandwich
and a baby staring

at her glassy-eyed, from his dinged-up stroller. Her eyelashes
are stuck together in kohl-colored clumps, and she’s
fingering a loop of plastic

beads she stole yesterday from the K-Mart. She’s thinking
nobody ever loved her as far
as she can tell—

not even her own mother, who sells herself for drugs and hard
liquor down by the railroad tracks,
who said Crystal’s daddy

was everyman. After spending the night alone again in their
singlewide trailer while neighbor boys pawed
the flimsy front door,

she took the tin filled with cash her mother kept buried
in the back yard and bought a bus ticket
to Wilmington. She heard they make movies

there just like they do in Hollywood. With her silky
blonde hair and near-perfect features, she believes she has what
it takes to become

a famous movie star or even a movie star’s girlfriend,
which might be even better. When her bus pulls into the station,
she climbs up the stairs

and settles herself beside a drab looking middle-aged woman
with bruised knees and cracked, red hands,
who’s probably been scrubbing

floors her whole life. Crystal would rather eat glass than
crawl around in other people’s houses
for a living.

The one thing she learned from her mother was never sell
your body for less than what it’s worth or at least
something you can’t do without,

which wasn’t much as far as Crystal was concerned, since
she’d spent the past sixteen years surviving
with nothing at all.

**

Denise and Merle

Denise and Merle work at the Corner Pharmacy—
easy jobs compared to what they did before. Merle
sliced lunch meats and hard cheeses, mopped floors
and scoured filthy pans at the Food Lion deli,
while Denise waited tables at a truck stop until
bunions, ugly as tree stumps, formed on her feet.
Now all they have to do is help old people find
their favorite talcum powder, locate prescription
bags, neatly labeled, and ring up sales. One evening
close to quitting time, a boy not much older than
Merle’s youngest son, pushed through the door.
He seemed nervous and jittery-like, fingering
merchandise all the way down the aisle. Merle
felt a flutter of fear, wishing the pharmacist hadn’t
gone home early. It was just the two of them—Merle
at the cash register and Denise, sorting pill bottles.
When he whipped out a gun, Merle wasn’t as shocked
as she should have been, but then she kind of saw it
coming. Like somebody in a dream, she pulled money
out of the drawer and stuffed fist-fulls into the smelly
knapsack he thrust under her nose. The boy’s narrow
eyes flicked towards Denise, whose jaw dropped
to her chest when he said, don’t move, lady—
prompting her to scream and run down the hallway,
flinging pill bottles in every direction. When
Merle heard the lock turn in the back room and saw
the robber’s panicked expression, she was shocked
beyond belief that her own flesh and blood would
abandon her to the mercy of an armed bandit ready
to snap any minute and riddle the place with bullets.
Thank God he took off instead of shooting her dead,
his rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the polished floor.
When the police came, Denise had the nerve to pretend
she was right beside Merle the whole time, and Merle
kept her mouth shut, too. To this day, they never talk
about the robbery, but Merle stopped leaving her cat
at her sister’s when she goes out of town and Denise
won’t touch the cash register with a stick, claiming
her arthritis acts up when she hits the keys.

**

Wanda Whiteheart

Wanda Whiteheart started cutting people’s hair
in kindergarten. Since she was a good-sized girl,
not many “clients” said no once she uttered the dreaded

words, You could use a trim. Most of her classmates
just gave in to the inevitable without protest. Parents

complained when their children came home with sprigs
of butchered hair going every which way, but Wanda
worked fast and every time a teacher snatched her scissors,
she somehow found another pair. Years later, after graduating
from beauty school, she opened her own shop and called it

Wanda’s Wig ‘n Wash, because she loved the sound
of those three “W’s.” Everybody in town knew,
however, that she’d never actually wash, cut or style

a wig because, Wanda said with a shudder,
they look too much like whistle pigs! She’d been terrified
of whistle pigs ever since one grabbed her Chatty Cathy doll
right out of her six-year-old hands and dragged it
into the woods, which pretty much
scarred her for life where whistle pigs

were concerned. Truth be told, Wanda’s real claim to fame
in the beauty business was the blue rinse sported
by half the elderly women in town—making Bingo
Night
at the First Baptist Church look more
like a flower show.

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