From CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW, 21:1-2 (2017)
LATE FOR READING, 1959
Skinny second-grade sharecropper boys:
straw-headed, lizard-eyed, sores scratched open.
Nehi for supper, Baby Ruth for lunch.
Cussing already. They run in packs.
They drink no milk. They eat no peas.
First week of first grade. I don’t know
the ropes. Past swings, coal pile,
whitewashed gym—I’ve gone too far.
Red apple half-eaten in my hand.
They brush no teeth.
Heavy-sweet hedge, honeysuckle
to pluck to touch to tongue-tip.
Yellow jackets swarm. First bell.
I drop the apple before it stings.
They kiss no mother.
Three—long-legged, too fast.
Cheek fisted down, mouth spitting grit.
Up my dress, ragged nails dig past elastic.
Last bell rings. I’m late for Reading.
They live in dust. Find home in fields.
From CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW, 21:1-2 (2017)
Child with the lost name, it was your skin
that stood you with the others of your kind
at the barn working our tobacco,
when the tractor, through heavy morning fog,
towed in for curing a drag stacked
with cropped green leaves.
And it nudged the pole that held the roof.
And the pole felled you.
Skin whiskey brown as Catfish Creek.
Come afternoon my father’s jittery hands
gripped his Super-8. Preserved for posterity
the ringlets, crinoline, back-bowed sashes
of my birthday party. Off to one side
Mattie in her good uniform, face behind her hands.
No word uttered about what happened
down by the swamp. Ten candles sputter out.
Jesse leads in the horse I’d begged for.
It fills the frame.
Forty years later to the day, my father,
after too many stiff ones, spills the beans.
Those were the days before people knew
about suing folks for a fortune. He paid
for your funeral, for everything. Sent flowers.
Even visited your family, even sat in your house.
Name? Honey, that was a long time ago.
He believes you were ten, like me.
Happen nowadays—he knocks back the Jack—
he’d be sued in a snap.
From SOUTHERN HUMANITIES REVIEW, 50: 1-2 (2016)
My husband can’t stop watching
the woman who can’t stop gardening
across the street. She's fortyish,
like me, but blonde, which is better,
and newly divorced.
“I've never seen her up close.”
No masking his frustrated lust.
She is distant,
but once, crossing the street,
she handed me a bunch of limp four o'clocks.
They'd take over a bed, she warned,
if I didn't watch out.
She's blonde. Did I mention that?
Loose-limbed as a teenager and lovely,
if you can forgive her eyes, focused
on a face more rare than yours—
lavender moonflower or bearded iris.
And she's passionate, judging from her spells
of ravenous pruning.
Hers is a jumble of a garden—
shasta, daylily, gardenia, rose, canna.
It flatters her house, its gables
and pitched roof,
arched windows that reveal
a huge rack of antlers and a caged cockatiel.
How could I not prefer it
to this solid Georgian,
its staid azaleas and family portraits
shot at three-year intervals?
There I could grow wild
and—who knows?—even beautiful.
From SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW, 48:1 (Fall 2015)
Easter at the Camp, Stonewall, Louisiana
We've pinned him down beside the barn
on a paint-scabbed bench.
In Michael’s hand, a pocket-knife.
No anesthesia. The screaming
sounds more child than goat.
Nancy grips his front legs,
Dave, the hind.
My hands press the ribs,
the kicking heart.
Marion holds his little horns.
Nick, who’s ten, runs circles around us
and points: "Are they what holds the pee?"
Junior's eyes are filmy bulbs.
His shivery bleating rises. …
Once he goes quiet, limp as a rug,
we love him. "He's given up."
Marion shrugs. "He's ready to be eaten."
Michael's shirt is a red-brown Rorschach
of spilt Betadyne.
Junior's tongue is blue.
Mosquitoes, too early, shrill in our ears.
Mended with gauze and duct tape,
he blinks once, wobbles to his feet,
then climbs the hay bales straight up
to where they meet the roof.
They lie on a Bounty towel
on the bench, looking remarkably
like the eggs we hide—
first boiled, then dyed.
From CUMBERLAND RIVER REVIEW, 4:1 (Spring 2015)
The black dog settles his chin
on the edge of the bed,
works it onto my pillow.
He inches his nose-tip to mine
and breathes humid day
into my night-breath.
Canned sardines and damp Saltines.
Fumed out of dreaming,
I squint into his grave brown stare.
He needs to know that I will rise.
My hand finds his wide head,
a long soft ear. Satisfied,
he curls onto the floor,
begins at once to snore.
In this dim half-waking,
my spirit remembers fear
and cannot keep from returning
to the one child I was not unable
to bring into the world.
My face lowers, until—there—
her milkish breath, the rise and fall
of thin cotton, her rare small chest.
Holidays, she returns. As if a ghost,
I crack open her bedroom door.
Dark hair frames a woman’s face,
but her mouth is her newborn mouth.
If she opens her eyes, she will laugh,
then she will leave.
From FLEUR DE LIT, 1:1 (2017)
Worley Observatory, Shreveport, LA, August 2015
The hard-lit steel plant to the east soils
the once-pure, strict dark of the fields.
Where else to run away from home to but here,
this observatory that small-town dreamers
built atop a corncrib. Relic like us of the ’60s,
it draws dreamers still, hoping for a spectacle.
Conditions are as good as they get—
no moon, few clouds, even a breeze
to break the heat. Some stranger—
amateur astronomer?—says look to the west,
be patient, releases us to be girls,
to lie flat on dry grass, to watch the sky
for what comes: blinking planes, satellite flares,
heat lightning, the Milky Way … constellations
whose names we don’t know, so we invent them—
Sherpa, Boaz—Labs we mourn. Patience?
We have the patience of girls pole-fishing
with grandfathers deep in swamps,
girls whose stiff-fingered grandmothers spin yarns
endless as galaxies. We have the patience
to pray hard for a miracle.
Slash of a meteor so near, so bright, we startle.
Burned out too fast, too soon, even for a wish.
For Dorie LaRue