Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

For the Mormon women of Green Haven Ward
that November day of 1999—
in the circle of condominiums known as Washington Square—
home of Mindy & Carl Wiley,
a consensus was reached:
If the wearing of the lingerie led to the act of procreation,
the ends justified the means.

A restlessness began to stir within me that winter.
I began to change as the leaves did.
I began to imagine what it would be like
to be independent of my nuclear family—
the power plant that had given me a rock
upon which to build my life,
if not my faith.
I wanted to be strong & independent
when Elder Roberts came back for me,
but I couldn’t pray to God about it,
for if the Church was true,
He would be against our love.
The only comfort I had was in knowing
that God’s will was not always done.

Contentment had been my life before the Church—
enjoying only the contributions of others
while contributing nothing myself.
Mother had her Church & David,
Caitlin had her piano & dance,
David had his art & professorship,
but the Church had made me want more,
& so I had to be more.

The three of us stood before a Mormon temple—
a tableau of what I felt was another time,
a time of bygone days:
A pastel pink rose rested on a black, baby grand piano,
& sitting before the piano was a woman
whose back faced the viewer,
adding to the painting’s mysterious quality.
Long, luxurious dark hair fell not in waves but ripples,
like the notes I imagined flying from her fingers.
Something about the scene was familiar,
but I couldn’t place it.
I blinked, & the painting was as it had been before.

She had been Annie McCarrick,
but I had only ever known her as Laurie Nolan—
a dark beauty who had reinvented herself from the poor only child
of an Irish father & a Russian mother
to become a common hausfrau to an Irishman like her father,
to the uncommon paramour of a man so unlike any man,
whose identity was as mysterious as his past.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

Her maiden name was her something old—
far removed from who she had become.
Her married name was her something new—
in her newly-widowed state.
Her something borrowed was a string of pearls,
for they represented perfection & integrity,
longevity & fertility.
Her something blue was the cameo
David had custom-made by a jeweler
for the only daughter
of a poor Irish father & strict Russian mother—
this daughter who had remodeled herself
into the All-American housewife, circa 1958,
& into someone unrecognizable to me.

Donna, ever practical, despised Valentine’s Day
as others despised Christmas songs before Thanksgiving.
Bearing tidings of clean living,
she had brought a plastic laundry basket filled with sundries:
soap, for washing the body after sex,
toothpaste, for washing out the mouth after sex,
& laundry detergent, for washing the sheets after sex—
items that would be donated to the local women’s shelter
to which Mother gave all her old clothes but never new ones.

Sister Kyle presented a wooden box
that looked suspiciously like a cigar box.
The pillowy satin glued to the inside reminded Caitlin of a coffin,
&, resting on the unblemished, flesh-colored material
was a set of real scriptures—not the Church-issued ones.
That vessel would become a Pandora’s box—
filled with a corpus my mother would live by . . .
& die by.

Sister Thompson, who had just turned “Social Security eligible,”
handed Mother a bag with Happy Birthday on it.
Inside was a gaudy bowl with all the characteristics of a recycled gift,
for no markings indicated it was new;
Sister Bear gave Mother a coupon organizer stuffed with starter coupons,
though we wouldn’t know most of them had expired
until we had gotten home,
which was like getting a gift certificate to a restaurant,
only to find that the restaurant had gone out of business.
Sister Batts had not brought a gift but a Ramen salad,
which Sister Wiley had hidden as if it were a meager offering,
akin to Cain’s vegetables,
for worse than a recycled gift
was recycled food.

When Mother held up a lacy black negligee,
the conversation veered into when it was permissible
to remove the sacred garments to don the naughty lingerie.
One-third of those present believed that the material
created a barrier to intimacy when worn right after sex,
but two-thirds of these hostesses
of this manufactured heaven in this mortal life—
like the valiant souls who had been given the opportunity
in the premortal life to live this one—
believed it was most pleasing to the Lord
that garments be replaced immediately
after the act of procreation ceased,
& I knew then,
as sure as I knew my name,
that just as the fancy black would bring Mother & David closer,
the plain white would come between them.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

Sister Wiley bought extravagant gifts for herself,
saving the posh bags to toss in dollar store presents
that didn’t even pretend to be knock-offs
for the endless showers that rained on the parades
of the unattractive & infertile women
whose hope for salvation through a husband or children
dimmed as their looks & eggs degraded further.
This woman, this Sister Mindy Wiley,
who dazzled the men & bedazzled the women,
held the bag that was a lie
in the palm of her hand for all to see,
pointing to it with her other hand like Vanna White
pointed to the letters on Wheel of Fortune.

The shower included a toilet tissue wedding dress contest.
Following the mysterious rule of three,
we were divided into teams of such.
Perhaps each group represented the unholy trinity
of an earthly bride of Christ:
a goddess,
a goddess’s daughter,
& the spirit of the goddess—
for in each team,
there was a woman,
a young woman,
& a woman-child.
Donna Marley had called the game sexist & refused to participate.
To her, dresses were as oppressive as make-up & high-heeled shoes.
Everything Donna saw as feminine & anything she saw as something
that separated the sexes, was, to her, sexist,
& through her eyes,
I began to question my worth to the world—
not as a person but as a woman
who was undeniably, happily female.

We were like little children,
scouring the living room for the scavenger hunt,
looking for plastic eggs containing a coupon for some food or beauty item
in hopes of finding the golden egg,
in which was nestled a 5-course meal prepared by the silly goose
known as Sister Wiley.
Donna deemed the game as lame,
saying something should have been done with power tools—
something that mattered—
which, for Donna, was always something
that pertained to manhood or masculinity
& was a curious form of sexism itself.

We finished up the farce
with a memory game that screamed housewife.
On a serving tray covered with a new-looking dishtowel
were 17 hand-held kitchen items
(most of which came from the pink breast cancer line,
making them harder to distinguish).
We were given 5 minutes to memorize them,
then 2-&-a-half minutes to recall them on paper,
& I wondered if this activity was a mere memory game
or some type of social conditioning that dictated
what every good wife should have in her kitchen.

You could tell a lot about a person by the gifts they gave:
Mother’s gift from Sister Wiley was a book:
The Lost Art of Homemaking.
David would love it.
Sister Page’s was a crocheting book.
None of us would love that.
Plenty of how-to books were given—
books that looked as if they were Dick & Jane-era throwbacks.
There were plenty of not-so-powerful kitchen tools,
several items with the As Seen on TV logo,
& a funhouse mirror toaster no one claimed.
When I looked at my reflection in the appliance,

I couldn’t help but think that perhaps I was looking at myself
on the inside.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

Mother’s wedding gown was a modest one,
with long sleeves & white lace that crawled up her throat,
making her swanlike neck seem longer,
even as the cut of the bodice
made her bosom seem almost invisible.
She looked like a bride around the turn-of-the-century;
the next century was coming in a couple of months,
& the New Millennium would usher in her new life as David’s wife,
which would place me,
having come of age,
as something between a stepdaughter
& something that defied definition.

As I gazed upon my mother in her bridal finery,
she turned to me & said,
“Someday, it’ll be you, Katryn,
& your young man will be able to take you to the temple.
Keep yourself worthy of him,
so when that time comes, you’ll be ready.”
She had turned back to the mirror then,
admiring herself,
reminding me of Snow White’s stepmother,
reassuring herself that she was, indeed—
with her eyes like dark chocolate Doves—
the fairest of Mormonland,
while I thought how much more loving it would have been
had she said,
Find a man worthy of you,
for it was something David would have said.

Mother’s bridal shower was held at seven p.m.,
or seven-fifteen, Mormon Standard Time,
with Sister Wiley as the mistress of a ceremony
that Donna found sexist,
as men weren’t allowed.
True equality, for Donna, was that men be as miserable
coming to these things as the women who came to them.
Sister Kyle handed everyone a safety pin as they came in,
while Sister Grahame helped Sister Wiley in the kitchen,
thrice saying Sister Wiley was the best cook in the ward.
These servants of the Lord
now served the sisters of the ward,
who trickled through the door like queen bees
with their Southern lilts that dripped with honey
& whose stingers sometimes came out at these things.

My eyes traveled around the room,
settling on each individual:
There was Sister Schafer,
pink elephants dangling from her ears,
as she worked for the local Republican party
& was a true blue, red-state conservative.
“A Christian Democrat is an oxymoron,”
was her campaign slogan for the Lord,
to which I knew Mother would have taken offense,
for David believed that even though capitalism
made a few rich,
it was liberalism that kept the many
from being poor.

A bridal shower in the Mormon Church
was like a G-rated bachelorette party,
where no man in a cop or firefighter uniform
would be showing up to remove it.
Donna had come for the free meal,
& had certainly not come
for the company of a henhouse,
where feathers often got ruffled
over the slightest slight,
without a rooster in sight.

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.

Sweet Little Nothings

Today is your day chocolate

She’d graduated without laude
but with writing awards,
with friendships, experiences,
& a confidence she’d lacked before.
She learned that it was okay to be an introvert,
even as she tried to perform exemplary work
to make up for it;
she learned that it was okay to be a team player
rather than a leader—
to follow what worked & fix what didn’t.
And, in her new, post-graduate life,
she stayed on where she had learned so much,
but when her last article
for the college newspaper
came into print,
she experienced
a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment.
She learned that no one could hold the presses,
no matter how much they had or
chose to give away,
& she was reminded
of a wise little girl named Pollyanna
who had said that “Nobody could own a church,”
for there was no place for censorship
at a school where critical thinking
was a prerequisite
to finishing.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

The testosterone trio
had made a calendar of themselves one year
right before their missions,
including their favorite foods in the bio section
(which Donna had said was code
for what they’d expect their wives to cook for them).
Donna had kept one to someday sell to the tabloids
in case Tony ever decided to run for office,
even though the spreads were G-rated,
the missionaries looking like the salt of the earth
that had not lost its savor.

Some saw Kath as being under the curse,
for the Church believed that Cain was the father of the black race—
the black skin the mark God that had put upon
the fratricidal maniac for protection.
How interesting it was that thousands of years later,
that protective cloak of dark hue would lead to the enslavement
of its wearers.
Sister Batts had told Kath that because she’d inherited black blood,
it had changed colors when she was baptized.
Such absurdities,
to me,
were anti-science,
akin to believing that the bones of albinos
would bring great things to those who not only trafficked them
but removed from them that which made its possessors human.

Elder Carmichael seemed to prefer the young girls,
perhaps because he was such a kid himself;
to these young teens,
he was the forbidden older boy.
But those too young to marry were of no consequence to Sister Wiley,
for as soon as she saw me heading towards Elder Roberts,
she watched us from over her punch cup,
continuing to stare,
making my hair
prickle with awareness.

I preferred feeding them on different days,
so we could have the elders all to ourselves,
yet I figured having the sisters among us
would help cool the hot stories
that circulated the ward about Elder Roberts & me.
I’d never forgive myself if I did anything
that would cause my precious Elder Roberts
to return home with a dishonorable discharge.

No one had ever called me anything but Katryn,
but to him,
I was Kate.
Even after we married,
I knew he would always be Elder Roberts to me.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

There were musical chairs for the young single adults
& a cakewalk for those who had not sampled
Sister Minnie Page’s mayonnaise pie—
(or “bile cake,” according to Caitlin)—
an inedible mess that half the young single adult girls said
they would be glad to buy from the winner,
just to smash in Tony Schafer’s face.
Caitlin ended up making five bucks that night,
& Tony, who, at his heart, was good-natured,
let himself be “pied.”
There was a costume contest for the kids,
but no masks were allowed,
for just as painted ladies did things to men
that their wives weren’t willing to do,
a mask provided an air of anonymity
that emboldened those who were predisposed
to do evil.

Mother had felt foolish dressing up before,
but this year, she was the epitome of a Russian princess,
David, a Russian czar.
No one knew what they were supposed to be,
& David enjoyed educating them,
with Sister Batts being the only one who dared ask
if they even knew what they were supposed to be.

Sister Wiley looked like a teeny-bopper
in checkered pedal pushers & ponytail—
adorned with a scarf instead of a scrunchie—
reminding me of the time
I had heard Sister Wiley tell Mother
that she preferred slacks over skirts
because she didn’t like her legs to touch.
If I hadn’t found out from Elder Roberts
that she’d had a baby in her teens,
I wouldn’t have thought much about it,
but I realized then that that attitude
was what had gotten her into trouble
in the first place,
& it disturbed me to think she was discussing
such personal matters with the elders.

The Jonases were dressed as Raggedy Ann & Andy
who looked down on their luck,
Brother Roswell, who always looked like a homeless Vietnam vet,
had come as a Hare Krishna,
his wife a gigantic pumpkin,
which was fitting,
as she had the face of a jack-o-lantern.
Sister Batts was the Wicked Witch of the West,
complete with a slime-green face,
though the warts were original.
It was a cavalcade of freaks & weirdos,
with a few genuinely sane people,
or at least that was how Leann would describe
the wacky assortment of characters who were
so unlike the types cast in Church-sponsored commercials.

Catie Jonas was the unofficial photojournalist of Green Haven Ward,
Caitlin, her captioning sidekick,
both of them ending up in the November ward newsletter
for their high jinks.
Caitlin hadn’t been spiritually converted into the ward,
but she had been converted socially—
with flying pink colors.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

David had been educated in all the social graces—
an Irish seed that had been planted in American soil
& replanted in the deep recesses
of the ultraconservative South.
Women found his politesse charming,
for he was a gentleman among men,
& I was proud to know him as I did.

To Leann,
David was “Katryn’s almost dad,”
to Kath,
he was “Brother Dalton,”
to Donna,
he was Mother’s “fiance” (in air quotes),
to Caitlin,
he was “just David,”
but to me,
he was,
in a way,
better than God,
for he was not only just
but fair.

I was Heidi,
an old classic,
Leann was Scarlett O’Hara,
a modern classic,
& Kath was a generic cowgirl—
an American classic.

I, at 18, looked 12,
& Caitlin,
albeit dressed as Pippi Longstocking,
could pass for 17.
In those days,
my naiveté kept me young,
even as Caitlin’s lack thereof matured her.

Though Tony wasn’t a groper,
he was a “poker” when dancing,
which he blamed on a physiological response
rather than a premeditated one.
Leann was sure he would calm down once he married
to release all that pent-up testosterone,
& the fertile flowers of Green Haven Ward
would be less likely to be mass pollinated
if he were plucked from the garden
without the roots attached,
for he had told me several times
that he would never leave Green Haven.
He had no so much cleaved unto his mother
but his mother unto him.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Leann was not a kid person,
despite being in a Church that prized children
to the exclusion of everything else,
though Mother believed the Church would change her;
perhaps if polyandry were allowed,
Leann—who was like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks,
writing to a dozen elders at a time—
would meet the one elder who had not been conditioned
to want what she did not.

We were so unlike the Jonas family,
which consisted of a half dozen teenaged girls;
“Greater by the Dozen” was their family slogan,
for they were of the Quiverfull movement.
Leann believed all they needed was a set of sextuplets
to make them “Cheaper by the Dozen,”
so they would get a spot on 60 Minutes.
To Leann, big families were overrated,
for they lacked the intimacy of small ones.

We were archetypes in a stage play,
even as I felt those around us were stereotypes in a TV series.
Leann was known as the pretty strawberry one,
Kath, the popular chocolate one,
& I, the quiet vanilla one—
a Neapolitan concoction that perfectly completed one another.
As for Donna Marley,
who was known as Twenty-Seven & Unmarried,
she was the hot fudge, whipped cream, & cherry,
all in one.

Kath’s African lineage made her one of the most popular girls in the ward.
To Mick, she was the “white chocolate sista” he liked to tease,
& though Kath replied that she may have been a freak of nature,
he was just a freak.

Leann Sweeney,
who had come as Scarlett O’Hara
in the white dress at the beginning of Gone with the Wind,
had the kind of charm that was disarming,
whereas I felt like Melanie Hamilton,
with Elder Roberts as my gentle, noble Ashley,
who was as loyal to the Church
as Ashley Wilkes had been to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Life was marked with holidays & celebrations,
with weddings & funerals,
& the seemingly endless baby showers
that happened in the Green Haven Ward.
In early October,
there was Trunk or Treat,
when all the members would line up their cars
in the Church parking lot
& pop open their trunks filled with goodies.
These weren’t our neighbors
but the same people we saw every Sunday.
In this modern era,
we knew those who lived across town
better than those who lived beside us,
for Mormons surrounded themselves with those
who understood their lingo,
their culture,
& their way of life.

Leann Sweeney,
the smiley-faced girl
with the Shirley Temple curls
couldn’t bear to say no to anyone,
whereas Kath Wakefield,
the black albino girl,
was brought up to say no
& to say it often,
& then there was I,
who’d simply wanted Mother to say yes once
after a lifetime of saying no.

I rarely thought of my high school days,
which were like a Gaussian blur.
I had befriended the sheltered, studious girls there—
the ones who ate from brown paper bags
& hung out with their parents on the weekends.
They had invited me to Mass
but never to their house,
& it had never occurred to me to invite them to mine,
for I hadn’t ever felt I needed a friend beyond the hours
I spent at Green Haven Catholic High School.
Commencement was the last time I saw any of them,
but now I craved the type of friends who knew me
as I knew myself at home.

We appeared as the perfect nuclear family:
mom, dad, 2.0 kids,
all of us well-groomed & well-mannered.
It had meant so much to Mother
that we attend Church as a family.
Mother went for herself,
David went for her,
I went for Elder Roberts,
& Caitlin went for Elder Carmichael.

Though I had known David’s aunt & uncle,
Mother’s family was still largely a mystery.
All I knew was that she had been an only, lonely child,
whose father was Irish & whose mother was Russian.
On the top shelf of a bookcase,
that held all of Mother’s crystal figurines,
their picture was as familiar to me as my mother’s face,
& years would pass before,
by chance,
I would take it down to dust it,
only to drop it.
When I removed the picture from the broken frame,
I looked at the back,
hoping for a date,
only to see the names Clayton & Marjorie Maynard
instead of George Francis McCarrick & Katerina Kasparkova.
Through researching my family history,
I would learn that these people were strangers;
when I looked up my grandparents’ names,
it was as if they had never existed,
& I knew that Mother had joined a Church
where family history was prized,
only to have made hers a lie.

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.