Election Day

Since coming of legal age,
she had voted her conscience,
though this time,
she knew it wasn’t so important that others knew
why she voted the way she did,
but that she knew why,
& she needed to justify to no one of her reasons,
which were her own.
In remembrance of a life well-lived,
she recalled her grandpa’s words
when someone had asked who he was voting for,
& he had said,
without apology & without hesitation,
“None of your damn business.”
She realized then
that just as everyone had a right to their opinion,
no one had a right to hers.

The Comely Bones

She didn’t yet have a name,
but she had a job—
to someday watch over the sister,
whom she would never outpace in age,
after their parents had returned to Heaven;
to watch over the sister
who some saw as a cute little dot
on a wide spectrum—
this blitheful child who wrote in smileys
& spoke in echoes
& laughed at movement,
not jokes,
& whose dreamlike gaze
noticed the page numbers
but not the words.
But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly
that contained an entire universe of being,
she wondered if this unknown quantity
would outpace the one outside her body;
for every parent’s worry about their child
whose needs were different than most was
Who will love them when I am gone?

Betty Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

A bottle of White Diamonds perfume
next to the last paperback you were reading,
left on your crowded nightstand
with something as completely random
as a piece of junk mail
serving as a bookmark;
a Coca-Cola in the fridge,
half-full—
“an accident waiting to happen,”
as Dad would say;
a half a pack of cigarettes
with the lighter inside,
every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss,
a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia.
So many reminders
of the things you enjoyed in life
remain,
their disuse telling the story that
even though you don’t live here anymore,
your memory does,
for it is protected from the elements of decay,
even as it is preserved in the minds
of those who knew you best.

She Is

Girls

Raised on God & with the 2-parent privilege,
she recognized that she was who she was,
not just because of the choices she had made
but because of the choices those before her had made—
a birthright she sought to pass down to her children:
a stable home in an unstable world.
She had been given a set of rules,
of precious metals,
that became more polished with every use.
She was limited not by her integuments,
varying in color & texture,
nor had she profited from them,
for the grades she had gotten,
the stories she had written,
& the job she had been offered,
she had earned.
In a world that was surviving a natural disaster,
only to be thrust into a man-made one,
where order & change could not coexist,
living in 1984 36 years hence,
& in a world that sought to gaslight her
into hating how God had made her,
demanding that she atone for other people’s sins,
she looked inside herself & saw it was possible
to be neither the oppressed
nor the oppressor.

When the World Became Separated

Peppers

When the world no longer had to worry about rude cashiers
or those just having a bad day,
they no longer met the ones who brightened their day
or the ones whose day they could brighten.
When the world no longer stopped for directions,
they didn’t accidentally end up
talking to someone they didn’t know
or question where they were going.
When the world no longer dined out,
there were no more idle conversations with the servers
who didn’t sing for their supper
but auditioned for their livelihood.
When the world no longer went to the movies,
there was no sharing the laughter,
no need for applause,
or even the opportunity to be collectively embarrassed
when something sexually explicit
reared its ugly head.
When the world learned how to make great coffee
and internet access was affordable to all,
coffee shop conversation,
like water cooler talk,
disappeared,
When the parents became the only teachers,
the only children became little adults,
and those with siblings did not learn how to make friends
beyond their bloodline;
for those who did venture into this brave new world
of shared spaces,
while covering their identity and keeping their distance,
saw others not as possible friends
but as carriers of the unseen
that could take their life.
When the world no longer needed to see the faces of those
who had not been filtered through their social media preferences,
they only saw the caricatures on TV—
the programming that had fomented a second civil war
based on the first.
When the bridal showers with sexy gifts
and the weddings with trite toasts
and the ultrasounds with fathers present
and the baby showers with silly games
and the events with boring speeches
and the birthday parties with other children
and the funerals with sad, funny stories of the departed
and the Thanksgiving dinners with heated political conversations
and the Christmas parties with annoying relatives
and the sermons that humanized Jesus
as much as they deified Him
made everyone realize how much they missed just being there
amongst it all,
for everything was no longer happenstance
but deliberate,
and there was a sameness to the days
that made them seem longer but lesser.
Those who could withstand the isolation because they were not alone
found a new appreciation for what and who they had at home,
but those who were alone and susceptible
pined for touch and smell and being present
in real-time
with real people.
When the world finally became unmasked
and love in the time of COVID
returned,
those who had been watching the summer of destruction
through it all
would never see the world
as it had once seemed to be.

Minnesota Burning

Flowers

From the Greece of the South,
the privileged princess fiddled with her phone
while the Rome of the North burned,
for she was physically,
if not socially
distanced
from the inferno—
a charcoal mask she deemed necessary
to cleanse the pores of injustice—
for it wasn’t her community,
business,
or job
being torched,
reduced to burning rubble,
or put on the back burner.
Those were just big-city problems,
happening to those who should pay
for someone else’s crime.

When Culture Shocked Her Back

20200107_115742

The so-called culture of the big city,
with all its restaurants, museums, & theatres
weren’t worth the price to live near them,
for eventually,
they, too,
would be destroyed.
Rather,
this girl from Poplar Bluff,
who found felicity in simplicity,
could be found under a peach tree,
reading books,
not burning them,
painting scenes,
not spray painting obscenities,
building things,
not destroying them.
She had the freedom to believe,
& express belief,
in order & reform simultaneously—
living not in The Twilight Zone
but The Outer Limits
in a part of the world
that hadn’t been beaten all black & blue
with red all over.

I remember Mom

5

Rota, Spain, circa 1985

I remember drawing fruit pictures as “presents” for Mom when she was in the military. (Watermelon wedges were my favorite.)

I remember making Mom ashtrays out of the black bases of 2-liter Coke bottles.

I remember Mom & me walking across the street to the Majik Market when we lived on Malibu to get a Nestle Alpine White candy bar.  

I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown with Mom at the Summerdale outdoor flea market, where she & Dad sold lamps & lampshades for Grandma & Grandpa York. We would stay in the LaQuinta Inn on Saturday nights, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to Pensacola & all the way back to Summerdale the next day.

I remember getting bubble gum in my hair & Mom using peanut butter to comb it out.  

I also remember the smell of “No More Tangles” that Mom would use to comb through my stringy hair which she always insisted be curled for school pictures.

I remember when there was a dust-up at my high school because of an issue I had with one of my teachers. When my principal, Mr. Bill Slayton, wouldn’t listen, that’s when Mom banged her hand on the desk (I heard this secondhand) & said, “My taxes pay your damn salary!”

I remember being so annoyed when Mom & Dad would be watching a football game & suddenly scream, “Get him! Get him!” at the TV. 

I remember when the outlet went out in Mom & Dad’s room, & Mom watched TV “long-distance” (as the power in the other bedroom across the hall worked).

I remember the time we were on a mini-vacation when Mom & I were in cahoots to get Dad to wake up at a reasonable time (like before afternoon), & I set all the clocks forward three hours. It wasn’t until we were at Publix later in the day that Dad happened to see the clock & made a face, saying, “Hey, that isn’t right.” I couldn’t help myself & burst out giggling, confessing my deception.  

I remember Mom always complaining that Dad & I were on the same wavelength. (Especially when it came to food, & we wanted to go out for Mexican.)

I remember Mom telling me that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get.

I remember Mom wishing she’d gotten a picture of Sharon before she was buried.

I remember Mom telling me that Grandma & Grandpa Booker had always treated her just like a daughter.

I remember Mom saying how embarrassing it was when Grandpa Booker hung her underwear on the line.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Mitt Romney rally & Jon Voight approached us from behind. (He actually touched her shoulder!) Mom & I were stunned speechless (it seemed our brains had temporarily shut down). And we’d made fun of Lucy for years for being starstruck!

I remember how Mom would send Dad out for Cokes, cigarettes, or thin crust Pizza Hut pizza with beef & onion right after he got home from work.

I remember Mom getting really pissed whenever Dad would take the entire bag of chips to work instead of putting what he would consume into a separate container.

I remember one of the few times Mom cooked, & she put sweetened condensed milk in the mashed potatoes.

I remember Mom telling me that she told Dad before she married him that she didn’t cook or clean, so he couldn’t complain.

I don’t remember Mom ever getting her own cup of ice.

I remember I always had to have a Coke for Mom whenever she came over.

I remember Mom & I always trying to get Bernadean to make her chocolate rolls.

I remember Mom saying she didn’t believe in whipping because that had been her parents’ answer to everything.

I remember Mom wearing her zebra-pattered bathrobe & house shoes that she stepped on the backs of in the car with me praying we wouldn’t get stopped.

I remember Mom & me sharing Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, & Lisa Jackson books. 

I remember how much Mom hated “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song.

I remember how much Mom loved Hank Williams, Elvis, & The Beatles.

I remember all of Mom’s unfinished projects (like the sewing machine she never used), as well as her endurance for all of Dad’s random research projects.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, & I was about to doze off from boredom.

I remember Mom’s patriotism.

I remember Mom always getting on to me for not driving with both hands on the wheel.

I remember when we went to Jerry’s Cajun Café, & Mom made such a big deal out of my softshell crabs looking like a tick, I couldn’t eat them anymore.

I remember Mom flipping out whenever cheese was on her sandwich or yelling from the passenger seat, “Tell them hot fries!” (or “thick shake” for thick milkshake), whenever Dad was in the drive-through (which would get him all flustered).  

I remember when Mom & I joined the Mormon Church, & we would have the missionaries over for dinner appointments. 

I remember Mom & me driving around Cantonment to spy on Sister Wade (who monopolized the missionaries).

I remember how much Mom didn’t like Relief Society because it was so domestic. (How to fold fitted sheets really took the wedding cake.)

I remember giving Mom my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley,” to read on the Greyhound bus on the way back from Sidney, Montana, where I nannied for 3 girls.

I remember Mom & I were always declaring that Jeffrey Hunter was the best-looking man ever—with Dad arguing that it was Tyrone Power.

I remember when our cat, Brie, had kittens on Mom’s stomach.

I remember Mom keeping vigil over Brie (who suffered peritonitis), comforting her till she died.

I remember when Punky, our dog, was dying; Punky wouldn’t come in out of the cold, so Mom put a blanket on her & sat with her for a while.

I remember Mom always dreamed of moving to Wyoming.

I remember Mom & I were always quick to let Dad know when he was wrong about something; I’d immediately ask Google to prove our case—if nothing more than to remove that smug look off his face.

I remember Mom sending Dad & me to Albertson’s to buy Bit-o-Honey because she had an addictive personality & would get on “kicks.” She also really got into watermelon & popcorn.

I remember how thrilled Mom was when she knew I was going to have a girl & name her Hannah.

I remember Mom was always so excited to see Hannah, calling her “Hannah B!”

I remember Mom coming to my house on Heirloom Drive immediately when I was freaking out because Hannah would not stop crying.

I remember all the times Mom would come by my house on Heirloom & hang out before picking up Dad; we’d talk & enjoy Hannah, maybe even watch a couple of episodes of “Wings.”

I remember Mom getting Hannah started on the “Smack Quackers” routine.

I remember Mom sitting with me in the hospital when I was so ill & couldn’t stop throwing up.

I remember all the times Mom took me to school & work when she was tired & didn’t feel like it.

I remember Mom weaseling her way out of most of the driving when we went up to Uncle Bill’s funeral.

I remember Mom often joked that her funeral better be held in the afternoon, so Dad would come; I know she knows better now.

I remember Mom.

I remember . . . 

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

He should have been
upstairs with Mother,
not downstairs with me,
but her sleepwear was
a barrier to intimacy—
& surely, David,
being a virile man,
yearned for sex.
Yet here was I,
a poor substitute for companionship,
for it wasn’t just sex he wanted—
it was sex with her he wanted.

The greater
the number
of children
the King & Queen brought
into their little piece
of temporal Christendom—
the richer they were,
for they weren’t just bringing
God’s spirit children into the world
but future missionaries—
little earthly saviors,
who were indoctrinated
from Day One.
Happy was the woman
whose womb was an orchard,
& the man
from whose basket his fruit
did not roll far.

I did not want David to sire a child,
for Mother was already his queen,
& I, his princess.
I did not wish to be dethroned,
becoming not a modern-day Cinderella
but a latter-day stepdaughter—
I, who had never claimed his flesh
& who could never claim his blood.
Mother held all the cards,
for she could claim the first,
her child,
the last.

David knelt before me,
his gaze worshipful,
his affect absent of guile;
the diffused light smoothed
the lines in his face
that were as familiar to me
as the lines in my hands.
He did not need a child,
for he had his child in me.
When I asked about my little sister,
he looked over to where she lay—
like a snow angel up north
or a starfish down south—
& said he felt the same for her.
but I did not believe him.

Despite my joining the Church,
Caitlin remained Mother’s favorite,
for they had always had their Catholicism to share—
that magical world of patron saints,
Mary sightings,
& the unseen man in the box
who listened to everyone’s problems
& made God remember them no more—
turning the Creator into a selective amnesiac.
Mother blamed herself for raising her in it,
even as she believed David was to blame for my non-belief,
for the sins of the children were visited on the parents.
Mother had taken upon herself the sins of her children,
even as Jesus had,
thereby equating herself with God the Father Himself.
It was,
in a way,
nothing short of sacrilege.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

He is

Rose

He is the Bread of Life,
impervious to mold.
He is the Living Water,
who needs no filter.
He is the Light of the World,
whose power comes not from the grid
but rather,
He is the power.
He is the Good Shepherd,
who gathers wool,
even as He is the Lamb of God.
He is the True Vine,
who grew not from Jack’s magic beans
but whose leaves are plentiful
& whose fruit is like honey,
for it spoils not.
He is the Bridegroom who will never stray.
He is a King, a Prince, a Servant,
a Carpenter, a Physician, a Philosopher,
for He transcends all.
He is the part of God
who humbled Himself
to connect with His people
& who laid down His life for His friends.
I am who I am—
not just because I believe in Him
but because those who came before me
believed in Him, too.