*Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Novel

Every Mormon a missionary
meant that every deed had an angle—
some were acute,
& others, obtuse,
but a negligible percentage was just right.
In the Catholic Church,
helping the poor was their way of showing
how great God was,
but performing acts of service in the Mormon Church
was to show how great the Church was.
Including Books of Mormon in military care packages
seemed like taking credit,
for the ubiquitous Bible spanned all other Christian denominations
so that no one church could claim it exclusively.

Unlike the Catholic Church with all its pageantry,
its stained glass windows & ornate architecture,
& the Baptist Church with its ultra-modern megachurch facilities,
the Mormon Church was spartan in comparison,
for they claimed to believe in truth, not traditions.
The Mormon meetinghouse was a building that looked like any other,
save for the crossless steeple & the sign with Jesus’s name on it.
The Mormons had convinced me for a time
that spending money on large & fancy buildings
would be put to better use to serving the community,
but then I remembered Jesus & the woman
who poured expensive ointment on His head,
& one of His disciples chastising her,
stating that such could have helped the poor.
That was when I saw these uniquely & fearfully made buildings
as honoring the One for whom they were built.
It was in this way that these churches were akin to the Mormon temples
that the brethren & sisters called God’s house—
these temples for whom entrance was available to the few
who passed the LDS litmus test.
Many would say the Mormons
were better than the Baptists,
but it was only because they had to be.

I was an eavesdropper,
a voyeur,
but the romantic scene made me ache
to share such intimacy with a man.
I had once fancied myself as a nun,
for I had believed that to be a woman’s highest calling;
now I fancied myself as a married woman,
surrounded by large brood,
for in the Church,
married motherhood was a woman’s highest calling.
Like the sinners they were,
my friend & the one she loved retreated further into the dark,
for what they had done could never be brought to light.

The game room at the end of the hall
was like the light at the end of a very long tunnel,
& down the rabbit hole, I went,
feeling like Alice,
getting larger as I drank from the vial
that would not cure my curiosity
but make me crave to satisfy it more.
Mick & Mart,
always the players,
never the spectators,
had monopolized the ping pong table for an hour
before I realized Kath & Tony had disappeared.
I knew they hadn’t gone outside to play
Ultimate Frisbee in the parking lot
but had gone somewhere in secret to play other games.

Though Kath was the only woman,
Tony treated her like the other woman
because she was “The Other.”
For her,
he jeopardized his soul for entrance to celestial heaven
& his grand standing in the community.
His parents were uncomfortable with the idea of biracial grandchildren,
for Green Haven was predominately White, Protestant, & Republican,
& those who fit into all three categories tended to be
the most prosperous citizens.
He was a giant frog in a small pond,
having hopped from lily pad to lily pad;
he wanted to become the prince of Green Haven,
& I knew he wasn’t sure he could do that
with a wife of known African heritage.
Though Kath’s skin was fairer
& her hair lighter than mine,
it was what was under the skin
that had defined who she was in it.

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: Poetry Based on the Book

Pride was frowned upon in the Church,
for when God had spoken from Heaven after Jesus’s baptism,
He had not said,
“Behold my Son, in whom I am proud,”
but “Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
However, Donna smiled upon herself—
prided herself—
on being the most liberal Mormon
with a temple recommend,
as she was known for having NCMO (non-committal making-out) sessions at her house.
Though a part of me admired her tinkling the brass,
I realized that she was probably still
the most conservative person outside the Church:
She had found the place where she could stand out,
even as I had found the place where I could blend in.
As I looked in the mirror at my modest self,
feeling like a woman worth more than many rubies,
I realized that the Church,
with all its traditions, structure, & rules,
notwithstanding the one about falling in love with missionaries,
was made for me.

Because Sister Wiley was a lifetime member,
she would be believed over a convert any day,
for a convert had been born into the world,
undoubtedly tainted,
rather than born into the covenant,
practically sainted.
Converts were basically immigrants,
though no one stopped to consider that because converts
had chosen the Mormon Church,
their choice had been an informed one.

Institute was the Mormon version of a youth group
for the YSA’s (Young Single Adults),
except the purpose wasn’t to become closer to Jesus
but to find an eternal companion.
Jesus just happened to be part of the package,
for at the center of Mormon life was the nuclear family,
& the brethren had stated they couldn’t go below their average
of at least one temple marriage a month.
Institute was a meat market,
displaying the finest cuts of the missionary cloth.
The lure for me wasn’t the prospect of Tony Schafer & his ilk,
but a new ping pong table & refreshments
& the chance to beat Tony at the game,
for I craved friendship & inclusion,
even validation.
To beat the unbeatable Tony,
who fancied himself at table tennis in an air-conditioned room
rather than on the tennis courts in the Deep South summer,
would make me a heroine
because men like Tony—
men of the Mormon patriarchy—
would be unable to abide a woman beating him in anything.
Banging him, however, was another story.

Kath looked like a South African queen
with her Rapunzel-like hair that exceeded the whiteness of the sun,
& Kath,
in her fancy,
saw her outer whiteness as the inclusion of all colors
& her blackness within as the exclusion of them.
I was colorblind,
but I was not blind,
& knew that even as one side would try to forget her heritage,
the other would never let her.

Service was at the heart of Mormon charity,
even as helping the poor was at the heart of Catholic charity.
As Brother Startzel regaled us with anecdotes about his service as an Air Force pilot
& his grandmother’s service as a WAVE in World War II,
I thought as David did: that military service was not Christian service,
for you served your country with the former
& your God through His children with the latter.

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.

*Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

Late October in the Florida Panhandle
was composed of ashen skies,
colorless landscapes,
& endless gray days.
A Christmas without sledding,
outdoor ice skating,
snow ice cream,
& bone-rattling, teeth-chattering cold
was “fake Christmas,”
according to the Northerners,
& Pensacola was the summer place
that ceased to exist during the holidays.
Our cold was a wet cold
that blew through your clothes,
penetrating the pores of your skin & scalp
so that you wanted to go nowhere,
for there was nowhere to go
but inside
somewhere.

Mother had once planned to wear the golden crucifix
she had worn as a child on her wedding day,
but she had put it away
when she had put away her husband & Catholic faith.
That cross with the corpse
had meant more to her than her wedding band ever had,
but David’s diamond solitaire outshone them both,
& in the Church,
there was no place for a symbol of death
to be worn around one’s neck.

Mother & David had been used to having intimate relations
& to put off marriage would be to jeopardize their temple worthiness,
for it was hard to go back to holding hands
after having had carnal knowledge of one another,
so Mother had opted to marry civilly first—
to go & sin no more.

Sister Flossie Snodgrass was a childless widow
whose husband had been killed after their marriage of one day.
He had given her his name for keeps & one night of passion
but not a viable child for years & a will to love again.
To Mother,
Sister Snodgrass’s house was a trailer,
but to Sister Snodgrass,
it was a motor home,
furnished not with vintage-style furniture
but with furniture manufactured 30 years ago,
where every surface was cluttered up with crafts
& a new TV set sat atop an old one.

Sister Snodgrass’s television was on mute
as she fitted Mother’s dress
with pins sticking out of her mouth,
making it look like she had kissed a porcupine.
It all seemed a little backward,
for I would have thought her generation
would be the radio-listening type.
When she offered us a lunch
of soda crackers & Vienna sausage,
we politely declined,
for, according to Mother,
that was food you fed to beggars, birds & cats.

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

Sister Kyle pressed her palms together
& gazed at the ceiling rapturously,
seeing Mother & David as a Greek god & his goddess.
Sister Corbin rolled her eyes at her companion,
but even she seemed affected
by the new chapter that was being written
in the love story of Laurie Nolan & David Dalton.

My gaze fell on Sister Wiley,
whose eyes were on the elders,
seemingly oblivious to the two new souls
joined in happy reunion
& sweetest communion with God the Father.
She caught me watching her,
giving me look that chilled me
as much as it charred me.
I was no longer an observer
but a participant
in analyzing the seemingly perfect specimen
named Sister Wiley,
having already formed the hypothesis
that elder missionaries were what made her tick.
The real mystery was why?

A onesie served as my baptismal suit,
which was fitting,
for I was being spiritually reborn.
It was a white jumper, that,
because of my God-given endowments,
made me look twice my normal size.
Objects in mirror are larger than they appear.
The material was stiff,
with an elastic waistband,
so unlike the comfort & beauty of my christening dress.
If feeling like a frump made one feel humble,
then perhaps that was why so many women
hid their assets,
if not their talents,
under bushels of cloth.

For the Saints,
conversion was a process,
not an event,
where baptism was part of the process.
For the Others,
also known as non-members—
which made the Church sound like
some exclusive country club—
salvation was a lifetime membership;
for the Saints,
salvation was not a lump sum
but a lifetime annuity
you had to continuously earn
by paying into it.
Perhaps this was because The Others
believed they had the whole truth
& nothing but the truth,
whereas the Saints believed
that revelation from God did not cease.

Choosing God over family
made me wonder what God had meant
by honoring thy father & thy mother,
for what about when Father & Mother were wrong?
For Sister Corbin,
she honored hers not by blind obedience
but by honoring them in such a way
that she made them look like stellar parents.

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

Loving Brad in my way had been so easy.
I would never have that kind of uncomplicated friendship
with another man again.
I had already decided to move on to a life without him—
just as I had to a life without Elder Roberts.
The only exception was that I had loved Brad
& had lost him,
I believe,
because he had chosen me,
even as Elder Roberts had chosen against me.

The night of the Johnny Lingo luau
was a sea of modest swimsuits,
an expanse of Mardi Gras bead grass skirts,
& an ocean of plastic palm trees—
a wholesome activity
to keep us out of the lake of fire & brimstone.
The tableau was like a movie set
where everyone was ad-libbing.
We weren’t on the beach
but in the cultural hall,
where we would not possibly see
any scantily clad females,
for we were responsible for helping men
control their desires
by covering the flesh
that draped our lovely bones.

A 1969 BYU short film that reminded me
of The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields—
minus the cinematography
or Brooke Shields—
at its soul,
was not about a girl who fought against the system
of being bought
but who bought into it,
given away by her father as property
to be loved, honored, & cherished
as someone else’s.
Though I had always seen Mother as a kept woman,
thinking my ugly thoughts about what that meant,
I was a hypocrite,
for I felt that David
belonged to me.

Like many ugly duckling stories,
3-cow Mahana
magically became beautiful—
with just a smile.
She hadn’t had to lose weight
or get plastic surgery;
there were no birthmarks,
burns,
or scars
to blemish the already perfect specimen,
& the knowledge that she was not worth more
but had been paid more for
than any other woman on the island
had turned her into a dark swan.
There was a certain irony that,
unlike the adage about buying the cow,
Johnny Lingo had paid for his
with 10 of them.

The pink lei I had been given at the door
which hung over my chest made me appear
bigger than a B-cup—
a symbol (or two) of fertility,
which was highly prized in the Church,
& I wondered if,
by having 10 children,
& smiling all through it,
I, too,
could be a 10-cow wife.

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

I could choose to allow Brad’s death to destroy my life,
or I could choose to embrace those who were alive.
I chose life,
for I wanted to make new memories,
not relive old ones.

Mother had convinced me I was living the best years of my life,
for I had found it so easy to make friends in the Church.
I wanted to tell David he was wrong,
that the Church hadn’t changed me,
for I had already been prepared for it.

Brownsville Assembly of God was situated in the seedy part of Pensacola.
“The Pensacola Outpouring,” as it had been known,
had become a national sensation when people
had started claiming supernatural healings.
Hundreds had renewed their faith & hundreds more had gotten saved.
David had said it was nothing more than mass hysteria,
calling the pastors ravenous wolves,
who devoured the souls (and pocketbooks) of weak lambs.

Religion was a show to Caitlin,
who was fascinated by the idea
of demons being cast out of people.
Her effervescent approach to what she deemed as
crucifixation (her term for religious fanaticism)
sometimes bordered on sacrilege.

I fancied the LDS Singles Conference like summer camp,
imagining Hayley Mills’ version of The Parent Trap,
except rather than sing campfire songs,
write letters home,
& make birdcages out of popsicle sticks,
I would not be coming of age,
but I would be of age.

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

Hurricane season was a time
for deck & patio parties,
& swimming & drowning in alcohol—
if the waves did not get to them first.
It was a time of bluish-grey skies
lit up with lightning
that was like stretch marks.
It was a time of wind-chimes clanging—
a persistent, discordant percussion
of wood & metal & seashells—
as if each chime was trying to warn us
all at once,
the notes showering my hair like raindrops.
It was a time of preparation
before devastation,
& I wondered if my life thus far
of not preparing
but of being Daddy David’s little girl
would,
one day,
devastate me.

Joy had eluded me
since Brad had entered the waters
that had claimed him—
the waters Satan had dominion over,
according to the Mormons.
Everything was according to them now.
I prayed the rain would cleanse me from the guilt
that I had been sleeping as he been dying.
His body had washed ashore a few days later,
going out of the world as it had come in.

Asleep,
I was at peace,
for even in my dreams,
I knew they were dreams,
yet my dreams were where he lived,
for every time I went to sleep,
I was farther from that moment he went in,
& there was a part of me who feared to dream
of the night we met,
for it would be the last time I would dream of him.
How I wanted to sleep forever,
for forever upon awakening,
there would be those first few seconds
I would think Brad was still alive.

His hands were beautiful—
the hands of a pianist—
these hands that had held mine
when we had ice-skated together at the rink,
like some falling in love scene in Love Story,
except ours did not lead to a love scene.
His hands had prepared many meals
for our little family—
meals that had nourished,
sated,
seduced.
His hands had rubbed aloe vera on my back
the time we had stayed all day at the beach,
& I’d gotten sunburned,
turning my freckles into flakes of fool’s gold.
But no matter what his hands were doing,
whether they joined me to him,
touched what I put in my mouth,
or caressed me in places few touched me,
I had always felt his love for me in them.

Mother was curled up
with a cashmere throw on the sofa,
working on a crossword puzzle;
David was in the chair,
reading a red, leather-bound book
by some author only academics read;
Caitlin was on the floor on her belly,
flipping through a magazine
while snacking on a bowl of snow peas.
It was The Saturday Evening Post tableau
of the pampered lady of the house,
the professional head of the household,
& the teeny-bopper who was all popcorn & bubblegum.
Candles were lit all around,
& the chandelier was on dim,
softening the edges of the scene
into something like out of a storybook
of what families were like
in post-WWII white America.
Yet, the scene didn’t look like a family exactly
but rather, three separate people, coexisting,
playing their role for the unseen artist.
That was when I realized that my absence,
somehow,
solidified us as a family.

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.

The Upside’s Downsides

Pensacola mural.jpg

For a few seasons after that dark, tans-free summer
after the British Petroleum oil spill,
Pensacolians still found purple-black shells & tar balls
washed ashore like some Biblical plague.
They pumped gas like some people pumped iron,
pulled mullets out of their gullets
like some people pulled muscles & tendons.
Browned while smoking hash,
they luxuriated in the erupting boil
that was the sun,
pickling their organs
while drinking in
the bay’s briny scent,
puckering up,
wrinkling like worried grapes,
fermenting,
preserving,
& dehydrating their bodies
with mixers & elixirs.
Even a BLT sandwich seemed too hot to eat.

*Fiction Friday: Poetry Based on the Book

In times of frost,
everything seemed rushed—
rushing to finish holiday shopping
& rushing to get in out of the cold
or home before darkness fell;
in times of fever,
everything moved as if in slow motion—
the trees swaying rather than shimmying,
the birds languid & low-key,
& the people,
even more so.
Perhaps this was because every holiday
had happened one year ago,
but in Green Haven,
summers bled—
one into the other—
like crayons that had been left
in the car too long.
Even after the town had turned its back on the sun,
the earth rolling over in its cosmic bed,
there was no respite from the heat.
Given the choice between being hot in stale air,
or hot in fresh air,
we’d chosen the latter.
We let the cold water cascade
over our heads & shoulders,
our hot bodies silhouetted in the frosted light
that shone through our bathroom windows,
drying with still-damp towels.
We had become as lethargic as wilted lettuce,
smelling not like bacon grease but of misery.

It was the season of the hurricane—
of parties on downtown patios
& beach condo balconies,
of people grilling their meat before it went bad,
to prevent the sourness & waste
that would pervade their homes,
for sometimes one had to consume something
a little too fast,
lest it be left out & seen for what it was.

The town of Green Haven was lit up that night of the storm.
There were no flickering televisions,
only flames,
no sounds of canned laughter,
only radio reports,
& the scent of burning paraffin that wafted like sooty, curling specters.
Books & board games that had gathered dust were dug out of closets,
while those who had imagination told stories like Andy had told Opie;
people had conversations on porches with those they could not see,
their voices floating like soap bubbles that popped in the trees.
We prayed for clouds like a rain dance—
to shield us from the demonic sun that was like a dictator,
oppressing us with its brutality.
But this was not the storm that frightened me,
for I was the meteorologist who could see
the change of climate that had come into our home—
a home which had once been warm,
yet frozen in his warmth,
even as it would become fluid
in its rapidly cooling state.

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.