*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: Poetry Based on the Book

He was still staring at the picture,
or rather past it,
& I knew that’s where his thoughts were—
in the past he rarely shared with us.
Mother had made Caitlin play the piano
since she had been old enough to sing “Frere Jacques,”
even though Mother, as a child,
had been forced to play all the time to keep her hands busy,
for idle hands, according to her mother, were the work of the devil.
If idle hands were the work of the devil,
then Mother had done his bidding for years,
letting David be her hands for the both of them
in the hopes that perhaps her belief alone
would be sufficient grace for him,
even as his labors of love would sanctify her indulgent indolence.

That night placed my mother on the trajectory
that would change her life as I knew it,
for David had left her a note:
You won’t ever have to play for me.
Her bewitching beauty had cast a spell,
her piano playing akin to the voice
of Andersen’s little mermaid,
enchanting this prince of an unknown palace.
David had heard the melancholy in her music
flowing through her fingers
& wanted to dispel it,
believing he was so like God,
he could banish it from her soul.
The music had not set her free,
but enchained her to David forever,
for he always found us.

She had met David the day before she was to marry my father.
He had separated her from her piano,
which she hated,
to the man she made my sister and me give laud,
whom she’d never loved.
David had never separated her from anything she had loved,
even as what she would come to love—
the ideal that the Mormons preached—
would separate her from him.
He was the wedge,
even as I would become the hammer.

I had never doubted Mother’s love for my father until that moment.
I became David’s priest as he confessed his love for her,
even after she belonged to someone else.
The woman I knew as Laurie Nolan
believed in honoring her father & mother,
but the woman who had been Annie Laurie McCarrick
had honored them in public when she had married Patrick Nolan
but dishonored them in private when she had continued to love David,
to pine for him alive
as she had never pined for my father dead.

There were no grandparents or aunts, uncles, & cousins
to call us on birthdays or visit on holidays.
I had never known the joy of getting a card in the mail
with a ten-dollar bill inside,
or the delight of listening to stories
about Mother & David as children
from those who had known them as I never would.
I had never known the adventure of sleeping
in any house other than mine.
I had never missed this lack of extended family before,
but after the Church came into our lives
& I saw how it was with others,
I wanted that kind of dynamic for myself.
Mother & David, like Patrick, were trees without branches—
reaching high but neither wide nor deep.
The sounds of another life were muffled,
& the sights hovered on the edge of my peripherals.
It had all been different somehow.
We had known our neighbors,
had once had friends.
Just what were we running from?
David hugged me to him, & I held on,
wishing there were no more secrets between us.

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

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

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

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.