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.

The Yellow Walls

Bed

A shabby chic bedspread of cabbage roses—
part of her “hopeful chest” before it became
part of her “hopeless case”—
lays over her bed like a garden planted in neat rows,
the paisley sheets forming a strange sort of soil—
the ashen color of cremation.
A headboard and footboard frames
this nocturnal resting place
with its pewter-hued, iron curlicues—
prison bars so prettily coiled.

A white shag rests in peace on the HER side of the floor,
a Victorian-era lamp on the white nightstand
provides the pink light by which she can only read
when she is alone,
for all light and sound disturb him.
She is not lonely when she has a book;
rather, she is alone while her husband sleeps,
and she lies in the darkness—
the shadows, the souls of his dreams,
the echoes of his snores,
their screams.

A fancy side chair has become “The Laundry Chair”—
the hallmark of a careless and forgetful housewife—
the type who leaves her nylon stockings
in the door of the car
or her brassiere hanging on the coat rack
for guests to pretend to ignore.

There are no robes
but flip-flops for slippers,
and a mouth guard with dried spit—
an opaque curiosity for the little child who often wanders in.

The change jar on the highboy is always empty—
pessimistic, transparent.
Jewelry trees,
like headless mannequins with wires for limbs,
look like something out of a Tim Burton movie,
holding up cameos like dismembered heads.
Stacks of unfinished scrapbooks sit on this highboy
like guest logs for visitors of a wake.

Twin stacks of library books are on the nightstand—
three by the same author—
under the lamp,
waiting to be read.

Pictures of who she and her husband used to be scatter the surfaces—
a reminder that they were young and thin once.
They ask themselves,
“Whatever happened to those people?”

A suitcase,
bought for the day when they would one day vacation
in Iceland, Australia, or New Zealand—
is often haphazardly filled after her husband’s vanishing acts,
when he would gamble their future on kings and queens.
The case,
in mint condition,
stands in the closet
that is always open—
just like his drawers.

Soundtrack on Repeat

Hippos

19 miles till Empty with my 27 teeth—
no pearly-whites of wisdom;
born tongue-tied with a wooden spoon in my mouth.
Sarah with an h (like Anne with an e),
middle name Lea, not Leah—
who would do that anyway?
Just brown hair, blond roots, & split-end decisions—
double major leaguer of my own destiny.
Livin’ above my means ‘cause I got no means—
drivin’ on an unglazed donut,
just livin’ this dream in the Redneck Riviera,
though I don’t know what kind of dream is being
a creative white peg in a corporate black hole,
comin’ home to more work—
Wheel of Fortune & Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Don’t you know that letter’s already been called,
& I already lost all my marbles.
If arts are liberal, is science conservative?
Slim Jims aren’t just gas station snacks,
& I’m no longer a Wag hag
but still get 2 earplugs for the price of 1.
If you’re a lackey & you know it,
clap your hands
& don’t be modest like the Mormons
with their fireproof underwear.
Wrote The Solar Express,
but no one cared.
Drink coffee out of rebellion
but have to pee first thing
then see “Live, Laugh, Love” stock art/wall filler
on shelves at Target which
gets a visceral reaction from me
like people who say fur babies
‘cause you don’t need no epidural
& alphabet tracing sheets.
Do it the hard way ‘cause that’s the only way I know.
Ablaut reduplication is not being redundant;
say wakey-wakey for left eye & right eye.
Concrete poetry I can draw chalk lines around
& walk all over like the rolled-up weapon
with the fake news called horoscopes
& maybe columnists.
Still driving on E . . . 

A Light-Year of a Dark Mile

Shamrocke

When the world changed
from 6 degrees of separation
to 6 feet,
the longer this change
became a way of life,
the more that distance began to be
measured by time apart.
Children seemed to disappear
like caterpillars
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
other children,
a voice & a face on a screen.
FaceTiming with the grandparents,
whose hugs had become something dreamlike—
the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum
& wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles,
the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume
& powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark—
began to fade into something indescribable.

Ode to TP

TP

No more leaves,
corn cobs,
or pages of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue
(thanks, but no thanks, Fingerhut):
TP is the !@#$.
Whether 2-ply or 3-,
lavender-scented or unscented—
(though floral scents
have an edge at filling
that crack in the vase),
TP takes a lot of crap.
Great for mock
bridal shower dresses,
tree garland
for unloved
principals & profs,
& butt-seat barriers
for public toilets,
TP is on a roll.
Now you’re running out
because of hoarders & bungholes,
but,
like any substitute teacher,
paper towels are willing
to do the job for less.

O’ Bourbon!

O'Bourbon!

You, the Kentucky cousin of Crown Royal
that courses through me like a racehorse
(while making time with Stevia Coca-Cola),
turns this classy lass into a good time gal.

Whiskey helped facilitate my firstborn;
now you work your spirit magic,
turning this desperate housewife
into a happy homemaker . . . 

To Bourbon,
..who tumbles over rocks
….to be my lucky amber penny.

To Bourbon,
..who blends well in mixed company
….and takes the jagged edge off.

To Bourbon,
..who smooths the wrinkles
….in my occasionally-overstuffed shirt.

To Bourbon—
..this working-class girl’s whiskey
….and friend to the unemployed.

To Bourbon,
..who makes me laugh at random things
….and gets me rambling about random things.

To Bourbon,
..whose strength I can control and
….whose weakness cannot control me.

To Bourbon:
..You are my lift before a public speech,
….my muscle relaxer before a medical procedure. (Yes, THAT one.)

O’ Bourbon,
give me my Ryan,
even a Madeleine,
or better yet,
pull a Solomon
and separate the egg
(you know the recipe),
and just tell my husband
to “Make it a double.”