Micropoetry Monday: Thanatology

Thanatology book cover

When the merry widow met
the grieving widower
at her late husband’s funeral,
Kickstarter Funeral Home
became their haven,
for when her loathsome groom
& the boss who’d made his life miserable
finally bought that farm down under,
they’d connected on a deeper level
by turning his obituary guestbook
into a public way to air their grievances—
giving others the courage to share their story
when she hadn’t had the courage to leave
nor he,
to quit.

When someone passed away,
the Tribute Reporter interviewed the 10 people closest to them,
but as she got to know her subject more in death
than she ever would have in life,
she found that some people only wanted to remember the deceased
the way they had known them.

D.D. Wentworth was the thrift store queen
who could always be found scraping
the bottom of the bargain bin
with her ShowBiz Pizza token.
She didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together
to make fire,
but she did have a penny
with a buffalo facing the wrong way
& a 3-dollar bill
with a mustachioed Gerber baby on it.
The millions she secretly accrued,
she left to her fat cat,
& things such as the funny money,
she left to her community.
The Wentworthless Museum
was erected in her honor,
where a furry, lifelike sculpture of a calico
is encased in a glass coffin,
or rather,
a glass case—
a penny over one eye,
a token on the other,
& a dollar bill between its teeth.

Below a Hole in the Universe

Mom: Rota, Spain, 1984

For my biggest fan since the day I was born

Who will be there to read the latest story I wrote, however unaccredited?
Who will be there to share my newest find from the bookstore?
Who will be there to listen to me at a poetry reading when Dad cannot?

Who will be there to call, worrying when I haven’t phoned in a couple of days?

Who will be there to binge-watch Big Love with me when I finally have the time?
Who will be there to say, “If I hear that one more time . . .” when I claim I am the Energizer bunny?
Who will be there to keep me company on the deck while Hannah is being a leaf-gathering and nest-making mama bird?

Who will be there to make lame-o “mom jokes” that were only funny in the way that Alice from The Brady Bunch is funny?
Who will be there to give me a reason to pray the car doesn’t break down somewhere because she’s wearing her zebra housecoat?
Who will be there to shake her head at me when I brag about not having tan lines?

Who will be there to yell at Dad about his driving when no one else is in the car?
Who will be there to yell “Be sure to tell them ‘hot fries!’” at Dad while he’s in the drive-through?
Who will be there to yell at Dad when he tries to pull the bait-and-switcheroo with off-brands from the grocery store?
Who will be there to yell at Dad?

Who will be there to eat Dad’s overcooked and underseasoned food?
Who will be there to ask me to get her a cup of ice because she doesn’t know her way around the refrigerator?
Who will be there to try my Grandmother Bernadean’s chocolate roll recipe, when I’ve finally perfected it?

Who will be there to outnumber Dad when he insists he’s right about some obscure fact?
Who will be there to remind Dad on how he’s hardly ever right about anything because he’s as stubborn as a Missouri mule? (We come from the “Show-Him” State, you know.)
Who will be there to ask, “Is there an echo in here?” when my dad and I say the same thing simultaneously, being on the same wavelength and all?

Who will be there to go with me to the World of Coke and the Campbell Peach Festival?
Who will be there to stay with me in the hospital when I am sick while my husband takes care of our daughter?

Who will be there to tell me I am beautiful, just because I am theirs?
Who will be there to tell me about myself, before I remembered myself?
Who will be there to tell me about Dad, before I was a gleam in his eye?

Who will be the proud mama when I finally graduate from college?
Who will be there for the Hannah Boo birthdays yet to be celebrated?
Who will be Grandma to my Hannah Banana?

Who will be the other mother to see me bring my Ryan or Madeleine into the world?
Who will be there to see them not only be good but do good in it?

Who will be you?

There were so many roles you filled
that no one will be able to play
the way you did;
some, no one will be able to play
at all.

There will just be your empty chair,
for you are neither here nor there,
but elsewhere.

Yet the distance between us,
between hello and good-bye,
is simply a wrinkle in time—
a wrinkle that will be ironed out
someday,
after I have lived my life—
the one you taught me to live.

*I read this poem—originally titled “Who Will Be You?”—at a student poetry reading at Pensacola State College in March 2018, one day after my mother, Betty Ann, was buried.

Sweet Little Nothings

We're all stories in the end just make it a good one! chocolate

Her life began as a brief birth announcement,
followed by a series of Owen Mills poses,
blurry candids,
& unfocused, jittery videos.
Then there was the grainy color newsprint photo in The Patriot Press
of her holding up a certificate
& wearing a medallion
for placing first
in a Constitution calligraphy contest.
For many years,
that was akin to her 4 touchdowns in 1 game.
She never got a write-up in the arrest records,
for that was a legacy she didn’t want to leave;
rather, she lived up as a subject
for several human-interest stories—
as the girl who sold 6701 Girl Scout cookies
because of a YouTube video
that turned those processed disks
into decadent desserts;
as a college graduate who crowdfunded her way
into creating an endowed scholarship
for creative writers in memory of her sister,
whose memoir, Lessons from Mother Goose,
gained notoriety posthumously;
in her silver-haired, golden years,
as a woman who made old tee shirts
into rag rugs for the homeless,
in memory of the brother she’d lost to addiction,
whose inward riches had turned to outward rags.
And then she finally told her own story
by writing her obituary,
for she always had to have
the last word.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

A priest in love with a mortal
could not be a good priest—
just as a missionary in love
could not be a good missionary.
Both were choices made by men,
who chose a Man over a woman,
& for those who said that God
was neither male nor female
had no answer to how anything but a man
could have fathered a child in a woman.

David was my lifeguard,
pulling me from the ocean of grief I had been floundering in
for being one of Brad’s sleeping apostles.
Perhaps Brad had gotten caught in a riptide
and hadn’t called for me
because he’d known I’d have come after him.
Perhaps he had saved my life
by not letting me try to save his.

Like a woman,
I didn’t know coordinates—
that which I could not see;
but I knew landmarks—
which I could.
Perhaps I had no sense of direction—
no sense of myself—
except in relation to my surroundings.
I hadn’t paid attention on the way to the beach—
just as I hadn’t paid attention most of my life
to what was happening around me
& to the people around me.
I had lived my life unaware & unafraid.

I often think about how different
our lives would have been
had I not been downstairs
at that moment—
closest to the door.
David would’ve defeated them
with some intellectual sparring
& sent them on their way;
Caitlin would’ve flirted with them,
scaring them away;
but with Mother,
I would never know.
Would she have been distracted
& told them, “Another time, perhaps,”
not meaning it,
or would she have done what I did?
Let them in out of careless curiosity?

David’s arms comforted rather than chastened,
& there was no rebuke in his voice,
only regret.
“I’ll take care of everything,” he said,
& I let him,
for he always had.

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

Brad worshiped the Creator,
David, the Creation;
I was somewhere in between,
for I saw being a good steward of Creation
as a form of worship.
I could know Mother Nature
in a way
I wasn’t sure I’d ever know
God the Father.

The tide ebbed,
leaving behind a holographic surface
in the waning sunlight.
My love for this boy swelled
as the waves crashed to shore.
It was our last good-bye,
for with his message in the bottle,
he had gotten the last word.

The thrashing of the crashing foam—
like Mr. Sandman’s lullaby—
lulled my eyes closed,
for a part of me imagined
that being coated like a sugar cookie
amongst all this magical grit
was where the Sandman got his magic.
I let myself drift off into slumber
like a piece of driftwood,
feeling safe being near to the one
who was near to God.
I fell asleep for hours,
Brad,
for eternity.

The bottle washed ashore,
almost rejecting Brad’s message.
A small sheet of paper
that had been rolled up
fell into my hand
while I stood knee-deep on the sandbar.
Ever after, I would think of this note
as a dead sea scroll,
a sacred text,
& a series of words that would
apply to my life
for the rest of my life.

I prayed in my heart,
even as I called his name,
but just as the sting of death
was swallowed up in Christ,
my screams were drowned out
by the pounding surf
that licked my ankles
on this deserted beach,
& I felt as if I was swallowed up
in the panic that begat my grief.

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

mormoni

He had been there to see him leave the earth
but not to see him put into it,
& I was angry at the world
that had not magically changed
because someone was no longer in it.

In burying my father,
she had buried, it seemed,
the last facet of her old self.
She had gone from a grieving widow
to a blushing bride-to-be
in the matter of an hour,
& no one from the LDS Church knew
of the quickening of Patrick Nolan’s soul
to the Spirit World.

The first ceremony would be a civil one,
followed by a spiritual one.
Just like everything else,
the marriages of other churches
were the preparatory marriages,
& Mormon marriages,
the sealant.

Because my father had died,
my mother would live as she pleased,
but hadn’t she always?
For if one had already enjoyed the intimacy of marriage
without taking the vows,
then how special could making it legal be?
For what was marriage but a representation
of monotheism—
of being subject to one entity
till the death of oneself or the death
of the other.

I was a hollow vessel
where Mother’s empty words echoed,
taking no delight in what I had dreamt of
for as long as my eyes had beheld
the glory of David Dalton.

Fiction Friday: Novelines from the Book

mormoni

Now I understood why David had stayed away all those Sundays—he hadn’t wanted to participate in the farce that was visiting Patrick’s grave.

I was grieving for my mother—the mother who was a stranger to me now—not for the father who had been dead to me all these years.

One lie had sent my father to the hospital; what Mother considered the truth had sent him to his death.

We sat there, at an impasse, & in that moment of silence, we were acknowledging that this was now the way it would always be between us.

Madame Novacek had told my mother before I had even been conceived that Mother’s first-born daughter would steal her first love and become her enemy.

The steely glint in Mother’s eyes dared me to take David from her, even as they warned me what might happen if I tried.

I was not Mother’s enemy, but I was at enmity with her.

“Don’t you know how much you mean to me?” Mother asked, but I did not answer, for I did not know.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

The Angel of Death had paid his visit,
& now my Angel of Life,
my guardian angel,
my David,
remained.
The words of “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”
played in my mind,
& it was David’s face I saw,
brighter than the sun.
I had prayed for him to come.
Either he or God Himself
had heard my prayer
& heeded it.

Upon my father’s brow,
my mother planted a holy kiss,
bestowing upon him her blessing
to proceed into the next life—
a procession he had not consented to.

David had kept Patrick from me—
had spared me from a life of resenting my father,
of visiting him in the hospital for hours
rather than his grave for minutes,
& yet,
Mother had predetermined that no matter what,
I would resent this man
even as I would love David without condition,
for such fulfilled her purposes.

Mother would’ve never divorced Patrick
or had the marriage annulled,
for she could not be forgiven for an ongoing sin,
but she could be forgiven for that single sin of flipping a switch,
so that she no longer had to live in sin.

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

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

The terrestrial kingdom was Protestant heaven,
the celestial, Mormon heaven,
but even the telestial surpassed all understanding.

While my father had hovered in earthly purgatory,
I had been living in a heaven on earth,
my mother, in the hell she had created for herself.

My childhood had been one of opaqueness,
my adulthood, of startling transparency.

If God had wanted Patrick to live,
he would live without a machine,
but by that rationale,
if God had wanted him to die,
no machine on earth should have kept him in limbo.

When I’d believed my father dead,
I’d never wept,
but when I saw him alive & dying,
it was then that I finally grieved,
for his death finally became real to me.