Originally published in February 2012.
The story never varied at the start:
there wasn’t enough flour or grease
so she prayed hard as she ever had.
Interrupted by a tap on the screen door,
a sad looking man stood there asking
if she had some work he might do for a meal.
She offered him cool water,
got him to tote some yard trash out back
and settled in to make what she could
with what she had there was sufficient
for him to take a couple on the road
wrapped in cloth with muscadine jelly.
My Aunts Margaret and Wynter Grace
were still little babies, gobbled every crumb,
kept them full till Papaw could get home.
He worked in Houston then, hard times,
everybody had hard times, but Palestine
wasn’t all that far, and he made city money.
She told me that visitor was an angel
sent from Elijah to reveal her faith,
she must’ve passed ‘cause they had enough.
Everybody got fed at her house, friends,
strangers, even gypsies, like the one
who prophesied I would be born a star
destined to see the world my own way.
After that, Travellers let her house be,
they left their mark on the sidewalk
so she would be safe from drifters and scams.
Turned out true, too, even at ninety-five
no one ever took advantage of her.
Except she could never keep me full
of biscuits or pan gravy. The memory
rolls on my tongue when I get Hardee’s
(a hard comparison) and I miss her stories
Once, I thought I saw an angel by the fig tree
at the house on Caroline, watching out
when Aunt Genelle left the upstairs door
wide open while we went to Saltillo to shop,
but that’s a start to a whole different tale.
Song and Dance
The old ones are dropping off the radar
faster than rotary phones, usable transoms,
cheap gas, and popping the clutch on a hill.
Tom’s mom fell, Susie died while knitting,
Genelle hangs on because she’s contrary,
and Russ simply stopped, just like that.
We shuffle through wondering who’s next,
what it will mean to be the last one to ask,
the story-teller, the only one who remembers.
Even poets fall back on massaging metaphors
into credible elegies, measuring blank verse
out in coffee spoons. Some tribute.
Today, I picked out my funeral hymns, swearing
I’ll get a hold on my affection for gimcrackery,
write names and dates on all these photographs.
Now is the time to reflect in this moment,
tomorrow I get busy, there will never be
enough time, labels, or plastic containers.
It isn’t being mortal I mind, it’s the old ones
tumbling before me that brings this side-step,
hoping no one calls me out to go too soon
Always from Pasadena, Texas
Since the day she looked in the rearview mirror
watching the state line sign shrink to a dot
she hasn’t looked back, hasn’t wanted to return-
not for them, not to see anybody special anymore.
Life was hard sky and welfare food for some time-
canned meat, peanut butter and white beans so much
it was twenty years before she could bide them again.
If it was too hot, the family slept on the hood of the car,
waking to flies in their faces, ants crawling in shoes.
When it rained, they’d all snuggle up inside, rolled
doodle bug style in the seats. Nobody paid attention
in those days, people didn’t meddle, they might
be nice enough to offer coffee or some food,
but anyone on the road knows what not to take,
where not to sleep, even with everything locked.
She hopes no one can tell what she went through,
and they can’t, but there’s a whiff of hard times
that clings to her choices, informs every movement,
she falls between extravagance and penny-pinching.
It’s in her voice when she orders at fancy restaurants,
at parties in big houses with lots of mucky-mucks,
she can’t help still seeing herself as a little girl
in charity shoes more at ease at Walmart than Saks.
She always finds herself chatting up old bartenders
at Windsor Farms affairs. They talk about the city,
make fun of the snoots, wonder what’s gonna change
two insignificant people making very small talk.
She’ll never go back again but can’t seem to wash
the stink of refineries out of her clothes, or grow up.
No matter how much she reads, how much she learns
she’s that kid in the rearview mirror, leaving home.
won’t show its face in a crowd, meet you
wearing a red carnation or be your BFF.
The very fact it’s
should be of some concern–Groucho knew that.
Of the two of you it’s the most disorganized.
It will always be < in any equation,
near the bottom in social stratification.
It will never pick up after itself,
make the bed, put the seat down,
take out the trash.
Not even when it leaves,
you in tears.