He wipes his smooth, pale brow with a white hankie,
Mississippi mud caked on his loafers.
The House of Carder stands on the grassy hill
like a sentinel,
keeping vigil over the town of Hayden, Louisiana.
The hearty aroma of shrimp gumbo
hangs in the air with the humidity—
the humidity that’s like a hot towel
wrapped around his beard.
She would say it’s as hot as blue blazes,
but he’d say it’s hotter than hell on Earth,
and hell was in this here town of a few thousand souls,
most of them saved.
It is a long, long walk
up this path through purgatory—
the colonnade of Cypress trees and Spanish moss
providing a green canopy, shielding him
from the sun that beat down on him like a cruel taskmaster.
There is a stillness here;
everything moving in slow motion;
it’s like he’s traveling forward through time,
watching the past as he goes.
It is at the end of this road
that he sees her—
the sun almost making her disappear—
this golden Southern belle who rings true.
she brings him from the darkness into the light,
rushing him into the heat of the kitchen,
where a pot of grits is about to boil over.
Her family comes out to see the Yankee oddity
with the Northern accent—
to give him a silver spoonful of Southern hospitality.
Like a scene out of a Tennessee Williams’ play,
there is bickering over grievances old and new,
the barbs flying around him
like bullets coated with maple surple;
then, quick as a hound after a fox,
everyone simmers down,
and laugh like none of it mattered at all.