Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

With any other youth group,
the idea of dating a lot of different people
seemed like cheating,
but in Mormonism,
until one felt ready to marry,
it was better not to get fixated on any one person,
for that might lead to falling in love
& that just might lead to sin.

Tony had been willing to give up his reputation for Kath
but not Elder Roberts.
Tony had sealed his fate with his beloved by impregnating her,
whereas Elder Roberts had denied himself
by denying me.

It was a jubilee of sorts—
the tinkling of our fluted stems
signaling the beginning of the New Year
& the best years of our lives to come.

A cool gust, a warm breeze,
stirred me from my slumber
like a ghostly lover beckoning me.
I just stood back and watched him,
enjoying him,
& when he spoke to the sky,
it was then that I realized that he was speaking to the God
I thought he didn’t believe in.

I would never know if David lied to himself,
so he could lie to Mother,
but they would have a year before the temple
for her to fall in love with him
without all the trappings of Mormonism,
before she would expect him to take her to the temple
& promise things that he would never do,
not even for her,
even if she were me.

The Annexation of Angela

Chimerism

You knew me before I was born,
and the other me,
before we became one.

At the basic level,
I was two,
becoming the stronger of them,
absorbing the other like a sponge.

I’ve two fathers,
much like Christ,
though I know neither of them,
and they know not of me.

I look in the glass that looks back at me,
wondering who the other one was,
but I’m just a chimera,
a breathing being like few others—
an oddity.

I’m neither a myth nor a monster
with the head of a lion.
I have not the body of a goat,
nor have I a serpent’s tail.
I am not the devil;
the devil is one,
even as I am two.

I am not a horror of the imagination,
but am the product of two separate nights
shared by three.
An unholy triad, some say,
rather than a holy trinity.

Did we hold hands,
and I,
wanting to survive,
draw you into me,
having not yet taken my first breath?

Did I not let you go,
but held tight so that I might live?

Forgive me,
for I knew not what I was doing.
I did not steal your identity,
I simply split mine.

And then I was born.

Published in The Kilgore Review (2016), having placed second in the poetry category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

A Memoir of Mother Goose

All I ever really needed to know, I learned long before kindergarten, from the adults who loved me.

Mother Goose was my first exposure to literature. I grew up with my dad reading it to me, and now I read it to my child. I’ve found that having a child is not like reliving my childhood, but enjoying, in a different way, the things I once did.

1991 (4).jpg

My dad, when I was a little girl.

For more than twenty years, I didn’t swing on a swing (just in porch swings, like my grandparents) or jumped on a trampoline. While my daughter colors with crayons or plays with Play-Doh—smells that bring back memories of burnt sienna and purple meatballs—I am not brought back, but rather, the past is brought to me.

That rhyme about the old woman in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I remember the mother kissing them all sweetly and sending them to bed, not “whipping them all soundly,” as I have since discovered was the original rhyme. The children were also going to bed hungry, with nothing but broth and no bread to soak it up.

I grew up on Disney and its sanitization of fairy tales.

In that way, I had a magical childhood, and that is what I strive to give to my daughter. There is time enough for her to learn the not-so-good things that exist in our fallen world.

Childhood is precious and fleeting, for when else do we get to be kids, to believe in Santa Claus and friendly animals and always-happy endings?

Whenever my dad read me “Little Boy Blue,” before he would get to the part about the boy crying (if awakened), I would beg him not to finish it. When you’re a kid, you never cry because you’re happy—that’s what laughter is for.

Now I can understand why “Little Boy Blue” would cry if someone woke him up, as I feel like crying when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato.
Turn ‘em out, knaves all three.

When I was a “sack of potatoes,” as my dad called me, my uncle Bill would run me through the rhyme above, just to hear me say, after the first line, “Three foul balls in a tub.”

I’m sure he taught me that.

Bill.png

My uncle, as I knew him when I was a child.

This was the same guy, after all, who said there was a certain hair in your nose that was connected to your brain, which would kill you if you pulled it.

I think we do things for our parents because we want to please them, but in the case of my uncle, I think I liked the laughs.

Perhaps, even then, a funny seed was planted, and a funny bone was developed.

I just wouldn’t know it was there until many years later.

Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are “I thank you” and “if you please.”

Every summer, from ages nine to thirteen, I spent my summer vacations in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, with my grandma and grandpa.

My Grandma Booker, a mother of two boys, always told me roughhousing was for outside and to chew with your mouth closed. She showed me the only palatable way to eat peanut butter, which was drizzled (or, in my case, drenched) with Karo syrup. She taught me that a word was only a curse if God was in front of it, which I didn’t really understand, because my parents never used the Lord’s name in vain.

Grandma and Jacques

My grandma, as I knew her when I was a child, with their dog, Jacques.

Even though she also said drinking coffee would turn your feet black, and if you swallowed a watermelon seed, melons would grow out of your ears, she still possessed plenty of wisdom. Even though I wouldn’t understand everything I heard until adulthood, I did understand when she said the three most important phrases were “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

It is from your elders that you learn your manners, which are the earliest form of soft skills.

When I was a nanny in Sidney, Montana, I was chastised for calling my boss “sir,” and he said something like, “I know in the South, you do all that sir and ma’am business, but we don’t do that around here.” That was the first time I had ever been criticized for my manners.

Since I was not comfortable calling him by his first name (even Alice called Mike and Carol Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and she was practically part of the family), I just didn’t call him anything.

Now, when someone calls me ma’am, like the math tutor who is technically young enough to be my son, it makes me feel old, but I don’t ask him not to call me that, because it is a sign of respect—just like holding the door open for people, regardless of gender, is having manners.

The two signs my daughter knows more than any other is “Thank you” and “Please.” (“You’re welcome” in American Sign Language is the same as “thank you.”) I still remind her to mind her manners.

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

In high school, I was the Bashful Dwarf, but one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year. I had a such huge crush on an Environmental Science teacher—a man who looked like a Ken doll (except heterosexual)—that I chose a zero over getting up in front of class. Public speaking always made me break out in hives.

That said, it was all worth it not to look like a fool in front of Mr. Bauer, for whom I would’ve learned to become a botanist.

High school graduation night at Mr. Manatee's

Me, May 1999, at my high school graduation celebratory dinner at Mr. Manatee’s restaurant, which is gone now.

Years later, I would learn it’s the smart people that listened more than they spoke. Maybe that was why the other kids always assumed I was the brilliant one.

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had another, and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

When I graduated from high school nineteen years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was looking for a place to belong; I thought I’d found it in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons say that the glory of God is intelligence. I always thought it was love, but when you think about it, intelligence increases compassion. I think that was why Jesus was so compassionate; He could see into people’s souls.

He knew why they were broken.

It’s strange, but when I was a Mormon, and a college education was encouraged (whereas a career outside the home, for a woman, was not), I was more interested in finding a husband, for a woman’s worth was so tied into being a wife, and especially a mother. It wasn’t till years after I left the Church and had a husband and one-year-old daughter that I was ready for that college education and learned that a woman was no more selfish for having a career and a family than a man was.

Perfectionism is stressed to Latter-day Saints, and whereas men take it in stride, women take it to heart. The irony is that when I stopped trying to be perfect I was happier, made more progress, and even felt closer to the God they’d recreated in their image.

Hannah Bantry, in the pantry,
Gnawing at a mutton bone;
How she gnawed it,
How she clawed it,
When she found herself alone.

I was almost thirty-two when I had my first child. It took me three days to get used to the idea (I was three months along before I knew), for I’d grown up seeing women with young children looking harried and unkempt; I didn’t want to become that, but the first time I saw my Hannah Banana in the ultrasound, I was transfixed.

For me, teaching and nursing were callings, but motherhood was a sacred calling.
I couldn’t find my cell phone half the time, and every plant I had ever owned died (so much for a botany career), so I wasn’t sure about having to keep up with this little being all the time, but a mother’s instinct kicked in when I held her for the first time.

With Hannah, I got a little more than I was expecting, though I didn’t know she wasn’t perfect, for she was perfect to me.

She still is.

Pink bundle

Me, with baby Hannah, fresh from the hospital.

My daughter is a Tuesday child, “full of grace,” and Hannah literally means grace. Hannah Beth Richards is a quirky kid, or “on the spectrum,” as some would say; I say she is every color in it.

She was so curious and into everything—opening the dishwasher and standing on the door, crawling into closets to play, and getting into the pantry, chewing through the onions and potatoes. A refrain that could often be heard was, “Hannah, out of the pantry,” though she probably thought, “Dammit, Hannah!” was her name for a while.
Though we no longer have a pantry, we have cupboards, and now our refrain is “Hannah, out of the kitchen.”

Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The rule of three perplexes me,
And practice drives me mad.

When Hannah was a year old, I decided to enroll at Pensacola State College as a Health Information Technology student. Though I was married (and still am), I knew I’d need to make more money—I had an extra responsibility now.

I’d let math scare me away from college—just because I wasn’t naturally good at it.
When I went back to school, I took all my other classes first, pushing the math till the end. It helped to have “the wind at my back,” as my dad would say, because it was that wind that pushed me forward.

In the spring of 2018, I took College Algebra and Elementary Statistics (which was anything but elementary), so I could still qualify as a work-study student. If there’s anything I hate more than math, it’s looking for a job.

So, I stressed out for sixteen weeks, spending eighty hours in the Math Lab, ending up with two B’s; I’d never been so proud of B’s in my life.

My uncle said his brother was the only one he ever knew who went to college to “get an education.” Apart from a little substitute teaching on the side and doing taxes during tax season, Dad never used his degree for money.

Had I gone to college for the same reason as my dad, I might not have sallied forth.

For Dad, education was its own reward.

For me, it was as much about the education as it was about the experience, and the most important lesson I learned was that I was smart enough for college after all.

A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.

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Me, December 2018, at my college graduation.

An abridged version of this piece was published in The Kilgore Review (2019), having placed first in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

 

Yessir and No Ma’am: Livin’ the Dream in Lower Alabama

Pensacola may not be in the heart of Dixie,
but it is in the aorta (if the aorta was upside down).

Our cuisine is macaroni and cheese any way we can get it
and grits 5-ways to Saturday & 6-ways to Sunday.
If you put sugar in your grits, You ain’t right.
We love us some Cajun boiled peanuts in brown paper bags
and nanner puddin’ in sheet pans at every potluck.
Everything else, we fry and wash down with sweet iced tea.

Gardenias sway like flouncy-skirted temptresses,
releasing their fragrance like a pheromone;
the azaleas pop out without care,
for water is in the air;
privet clusters and crepe myrtles take flight like dandelion seeds.

The iconic Graffiti Bridge on 17th Avenue
is our landmark for free expression.
Facebook pages are dedicated to it.
Everything from breasts to Bush for President
has been painted on there for a day.

There’s the 1000-plus member Baptist church,
pastored by the fire-headed preacher with the big teeth
an Elmer Gantry-type personality who’s found his Zenith, Missouri.
If you’re in need,
they will give you expired food for free.

“Bless your hearts, you’re going to hell,”
one of the lady parishioners tells a pair of Mormon missionaries
the ones that ride around town on bicycles,
marked as Elder This and Elder That,
even though they are young.
They don’t know what to think;
they don’t talk about Jesus this much in Utah,
and church here for many is just a Sunday thing,
’cause they already be saved.

Everyone is either saved or damned;
there’s always somebody praying for you,
passing the buck to God.
If you say you’re spiritual but not religious,
well, you’re just trying to have your red velvet cake and eat it, too.

Jesus was a Socialist, I hear from the liberals
who don’t believe in Him anyway
at least the One with all the rules
while those wearing Confederate flag tees say,
“God only helps those who help themselves.”

At one street corner, a well-dressed group is waving their Bibles and yelling;
at the other, a homeless man is holding up a cardboard sign that says,
Anything helps, God bless.
The homeless are like the trees that sway in the gulf breeze;
they have become part of the landscape
that’s made up of shuttered businesses and brand-spankin’ new homes
built next door to shitholes.

Cars wallpapered in Bible quotes drive by churches with signs that say,
“Do Jesus a favor by putting yourself in His,”
“God’s will can be your way,”
and “An apple one day turned God away.”

Everyone is pro-choice here
it’s just a matter of whom they want to save:
the unborn or the incarcerated?
Which does Jesus save?
The sinful or sinless?
Don’t you have to be born to be in sin?

There is no separation of Church and State here;
politics and religion are one and the same.

Here, God is omnipresent.

Hot spells compete with cold snaps;
it’s usually boiling hot or freezing cold,
with just a few days of spring scattered
like parsley on a plate of glorified scrambled eggs.

When a hurricane knocks the power out,
we can be found taking several cool showers a day,
the damp towels hardly drying in the humidity,
leaving them smelling mildewy
as if they’d been left in the washer too long.
During those times, our family would be fine dining
in the Sacred Heart Hospital cafeteria.
We want hot food in a cold room
not the other way around.
There were no squirrels for a long time after Ivan
they got blown away.

Every week, there’s a hit-and-run;
cyclists and pedestrians:
be green and poor at your own risk.
Every day, there’s roadkill baking on the asphalt
probably enough critters to fill all the potholes in town.

In the T.T. Wentworth Museum,
a petrified cat is on display.

Beach-themed crap is everywhere;
the weather reports are endless.

Its called the Deep South because its like a pit
that you fall in and can’t scrabble your way out of
not because you’re broken,
but rather, because you’re broken in
and baked into the bread pudding that is the Redneck Riviera.
The South is still proud of its Southerness
even for using don’t when it should be doesn’t.

For grammarians,
it frustrates,
but for storytellers,
it captivates.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

It was always chess over checkers with us,
Clue & Scrabble over Life & Monopoly,
& I could see how our game choices
showed me what our life was—
a puzzle.

In Religion, righteousness trumped kindness;
in Spirituality, kindness trumped righteousness.
But in the world, they were granted Equality.

I chose the Church as I would some day
have to choose a mate.
I grabbed hold of the attributes I loved,
tolerating the ones I did not.
But how perfect could the Church be,
being made up of many men?

I trusted David with my heart & life & body
as surely as I trusted God,
whoever He was,
with my soul.

She had prayed every night
that God would give Caitlin
as long as she needed on this Earth
to accept the truth.
I knew in my heart that Caitlin
would never accept the Church as true,
& so, if God answered such prayers,
Caitlin would live forever.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Mother was like an onion–
her many layers gradually being peeled back–
causing the tears to come quicker.
Her history had not been known
but was still being discovered,
&, like the universe,
would never be all the way known.

Though we had never gone anywhere outside the U.S.,
I traveled through David’s lectures,
through the tastes & smells of unfamiliar foods,
the sounds of music, the sight of photos,
the touch of artifacts.
He didn’t take me around the world
but brought the world to me.

According to David,
God was either a figment of imagination
or an extraterrestrial with powers
more advanced than ours.

Caitlin was denim & lace,
I, satin & pearls,
but Mother was cut from a different cloth;
whatever it was had a high thread count.
Other women were nylon & polyester,
but she was like the finest Egyptian cotton,
her skin like the softest silk–
even the wool she pulled over my eyes
was vibrantly colored.

David believed Jesus was a great prophet,
that Jesus only believed He was God
because others had told Him so,
for hadn’t there been many Messiahs
before & since?
Perhaps Jesus had simply been better
at branding himself.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

He’d never read to me Mother Goose
or Dr. Seuss,
but the Dead Poets,
& the works of a particular student of his–
Marianne something–
who fancied herself a poetess.
We’d never seen puppets teaching shapes & colors
but musicals as bright as candy corn.

For our family tree was such that
if there were older generations left,
I could not see them through the leaves at the top—
where cobwebs had netted them together
through the shadows my mother had placed there.

The graven image of Moroni topped
Mormon temples like a wedding cake,
the interior of which were supposed to be like the
Celestial Kingdom of Heaven on Earth,
but my dream heaven was high on a mountaintop
where snowflakes fell in Spirograph-like creations,
or riding an elephant on a beach,
the sun at our backs,
or deep in the bayou under the Spanish moss
where the crawdads sang—
anywhere in nature,
where the words of the poets
were painted on the sky.

They all spoke on the Law of Chastity,
& you would think there was only one law to break
but to them,
breaking this law led to every other sin—
abortion, poverty, & eternal damnation.

The idea that God had once been
as we once were,
that He had been dust imbued
with the breath of life–
an inhabitant of another earth–
frightened me.
I wanted Him to have always been–
without beginning,
without end.