River Haven by Pepper Smith

Everything sounds like a magical lie when I talk about Mississippi,

like Libba in her 60s living with her 87‐year‐old mother, Mimi,
on a small island noted for one dive bar and county trash collection.
No one dropped by on accident.
In the patio shade overlooking the Tombigbee, slow as cane syrup,
we could just make out through the kudzu the last water skier
as we drank a vodka punch Mimi called Red Rooster,
same as the hummingbirds sipped from the feeder,
and we’d ask Mimi to tell stories
of chasing off a tugboat with her grandfather’s Navy Colt revolver,
or giving foxtrot lessons to Governor J. P. Coleman,
“If you know the reverse, you’ll be confident in any situation,”
and watched her yellow teeth frame high laughter.
It’s a good story if you’ve heard it a hundred times and still want to hear it.
We’d burn citronella for the mosquitoes
and that antiseptic‐citrus smell would blend with Red Roosters,
honeysuckle, and the dog hair on the vinyl seat cushions to call the evening
and still you’d slap mosquitoes and see your own borrowed bleeding.
Cooking, are you serious? Later, we might de‐thaw a ground beef & green bean casserole,
if all the paper bowls of popcorn and party mix didn’t fill you.
Mimi and Libba had done enough of their wishes,
raised children and lived contented. What remained was conversation.
To slow down and hear, hear talk so clear you could watch it happen like dancing,
the pause, the pivot, the lead you followed, that reverse turn you had to master
…but don’t fret over the footwork, it’s your smile people are watching.
We sat with our Red Roosters and spoke and listened until we were finished,
only the woods, the river, the distant traffic.