Melissa Lamb – Four Poems

Tomboy’s Christmas Present

Mama liked to say that her yungins were
born with the Lord’s birthmark.  Tomboy’s was just
harder to see.  “More like the mark o’ Cain,” we laughed.
But not to Mama.  She’d a tanned our hides,

like when she caught us practicin’ our cuss words,
or sneakin’ a chew. Daddy knew the stars and weather,
and Mama–well, she ruled the earth.
She had a fly-paper mind; and a will like stone.

Daddy said, “if yore Mama ever run head-long into
a freight train, I swear that train ud just derail.”
Last Christmas, Tomboy skinned Pinto’s cat, Moses.
Served it up to ’im in Mama’s wash tub, like a present.

I squalled all day and Pinto threw up and took to his bed.
When Pinto finally got up, Mama said Pinto would now be
called by his Christian name of Paul. Y’all best not forget it.
Christmas, like Moses, just laid there dead and froze.


Tomboy’s New Game

Tomboy kept his hat low over his eyes,
and never looked at you, ’cept when you
looked off. Then you shivered like
somebody’s a walkin’ on yore grave.

Daddy’s green eyes studied the clouds
and the first drip of a slow, icy rain.
He said, “No, Shur’ff, we ain’t seen Tomboy
since Fridey.  He’s likely drunk in town.

“I ’spect that revenuer’ll turn up directly.
Them G Men got noses like bloodhounds.
If Canebreak Bottom let ’im down, he likely
follered his scent clear to Hatchie River.”

Molasses kicked and neighed from the stable and
my on-easy feeling churned again. Tomboy had
three games: drinkin, huntin, and fightin.
We uz all thinkin’, what we dare not be sayin.


Tomboy’s Loot

Since the law was trollin’ for Tomboy, the grief was on
Mama like a flock o’ buzzards. She just rocked and stared
at some big black nothin’. When Mama went dark, Paul went
darker. Always was like that. We heard Daddy tell

Grand Jobe that “Manna can’t weather no trial.  Everbody knows
Tomboy done kilt that revenuer. . that shame ’ud break her mind.”
Tomboy kept skulkin’ from the smoke house, to the loft, roun’ the bottom,
just slinkin with the snakes, we said. But just like our reg’lar dose

o’ castor oil, when me an’ Paul come up from the holler with
toad-stools, or blackberries, or arrow-heads, there’s his ugly face,
lobbin’ rocks at us, till we’d fling our loot, and skedaddle.
But that day, Paul said kind o’ quiet like, “leave the toads with me,

Bea. Go pull us some sweet gum.” He lit out like a Easter egg hunt
an’ come back with a passel. I plucked one and fingered the stem.
“Paul, you know what Mama says ’bout feelin’:  If she’s got a
flower ring round the stalk, that cup’s a poison. You got to go

by the feelin’; the seein’ can lie to ya. You throw ¢em on back, now.”
But Paul just grinned and bolted. “We best be gittin’ on home.
Mama’ll have supper.”  My gut plucked a on-easy chord.
Roundin’ the bend, we cussed at the sting of our brother’s stones.


Tomboy’s Belly

Daddy’s eyes changed colors with his feelings.
Twinkle blue when he laughed–
gray, like steel when he was mad.
But if he was sad, or sick, or scared,

they ebbed a lonely sea-green,
like he was looking inside at the pain.
The old Moon held her nose as the stink
o’ trouble smoked through Alcorn county.

Sure ’nough, when the doctors cut open Tomboy’s
belly, it was eat up with what they called death mold.
We just called ’em toad-stools. Them flowerin’ sponges
ambled all over Canebreak Bottom, ’long-side their tasty,

harmless cousins. As the tide dried from his aqua gaze,
Daddy quivered, “if you lose a tooth, it leaves
a gapin’ hole in yore mouth–-just black, sore space.
An’ it don’t count a damn how bad the tooth was.”