One More from the First Section of Black Snakes and Happy

Connell’s Point, Arkansas
 
vi
Red round taillights
new 1962 Galaxy 500,
shining in my imagination of a Sunday afternoon. Aunt Nona Crisp kept it parked in an open car port on a dusty road, but Uncle Johnny wiped the dust off at least once a day. My brother said don’t get finger prints on it, but I had to swirl my fingers in the round glass lens and
dream about driving
it to the moon.
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No Mirrors

The fat old man walks heavily

Nakedly from the office

To the kitchen to refill his glass,

A little water in the night.

 

A mouth dry from reading

Poetry of strangers aloud,

Softly mouthing the words

Dries the tongue like talking.

 

The knees must at least seventy,

The body thirty years behind

He is grateful that it is four am

And that he has curtains.

 

I am grateful there are no mirrors

So I do not have to see him.

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The End of Black Snakes and Happy?

I’m not sure if i will finish the book into  my adulthood, or even if this “poem” belongs with the others.

Montgomery, Alabama

 

279-8819

Is the number

to my rich uncle’s house, though I almost never called to talk to him, but instead one of his five sons. Or it was, from the time they built the new house in a modern high end neighborhood called Eagle Pass at 120 Lookout Ridge and I memorized one evening at Wednesday night church over forty years ago. A few years ago I was sitting in the kitchen at their house. We had just buried my aunt, who died months after my uncle. We, being out of town relatives who spent the night in their home one last time. The beige wall phone rang and someone answered it. But I thought to myself right then, “I’ll never need to call that number again.” And now there are so many numbers and addresses, so many people and places I keep alive in my mind with their address and phone number who will finally be dead to me when I am dead, too and no one will keep those numbers in their head, but maybe someone

will keep me alive by holding the number

they will never call again

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Black Snakes and Happy, Jasper and Active

Jasper, Alabama

 

 

Coal trucks

rumble up and down

mountain sides while I eat moon pies in the back seat under the moonlight and wonder at the oddly shaped TV tower. I don’t know why I know it is one,

unless I asked daddy.

He knows everything.

 

 

Metal peddle cars

that look like real cars

from the 1940s, giant orange leaves make patterns on the older brown ones and older cousins tell terrifying stories of boogie men in the woods and how they cut off my brother’s head with a butcher knife. My brother pops out

from the shed

when I begin to cry.

 

 

Chicken houses

and a dusty dark attic

because the parsonage is in no condition for habitation. We weren’t allowed into the chicken houses, but the smell came into ours. The stairway led up to a closed door until my brother snuck up and beckoned me to see when mama was out.

Cobwebs, boxes and dirty dormer windows

and I never went

up there again.

 

 

Three houses in two years,

I never moved so much.

This a little brick house and no chickens. My brother went to school and I played all day with a big red barrel full of plastic bricks from the American Brick Company but I liked it most when daddy would

sit on the floor after supper

and build with me.

 

Aunt Shirley,

daddy’s pretty redheaded younger sister

came to visit me. She and her English professor husband came to visit us all, but Aunt Shirley always made me feel like she came to see just me. And we doodled for doodle bugs in the holes in the sandy yard out back, but found none and I told her the tall grass in the adjoining pasture was Johnson grass and told her I guessed they named it for President Johnson

which she thought was cute

and shared with everyone at supper.

 

 

Somewhere we lived

next door to a nice lady

with a ball chime with string you could pull and it would play the song about mistletoe and she would always give me a kiss when I pulled it. She smoked a lot and in my four-year old way I told she needed to quit because it was a sin. I knew about sin because my daddy was a holiness preacher and he knew everything. She said she knew it and tried hard to quit and I suggested she hold her breath like you do to quit the hiccups and she kissed me

and I hadn’t even

pulled the string.

 

 

The nice lady

had a TV

and we didn’t. Movies and TVs were sinful, but we had a radio and record player built a long wooden cabinet with a top that opened a sewing machine table. I mostly listened to Firestone Christmas LPs all year long.

But when JFK was assassinated, I went down to her house to watch little John-John salute the coffin. Later I realized he and I were the same age. I was so glad nobody assassinated my daddy and I went back across the yard

and climbed up

in my daddy’s lap.

 

 

To the east

of our house

lived a little girl who was adopted. She was the first person I ever knew of who was adopted. My brother said her parents were dead and so she had to go live with somebody else. My brother usually told the truth, but I don’t know about this story. Somehow I got it in my head they had been shot, and somehow, maybe because of the loud popping, I thought of my mama making canned biscuits every morning. I dreamed I had been shot and I turned into the empty foil backed paper wrapper the biscuits came in, gently rocking back and forth attached at both ends to the little silver discs. I woke up glad to be alive and so hopeful no one would

shoot me and turn me

into a paper wrapper.

 

 

Kenny’s daddy

had been in the big one

even though Kenny and I were the same age and my daddy was a teenager following the war on maps in the newspaper. In the basement they had an old phone that you had to click and say “operator”, only there was no operator. And they had Nazi helmets and knives and stuff he took off dead Germans. We couldn’t touch it, but Kenny and I would go play in the vacant lot next door with its tall grass and crawl on our bellies and sneak up on the Germans and throw hand grenades

that looked like green pine cones.

We always won the war.

 

 

 

Active, Alabama

 

 

I was five

when I learned

to hate Christmas. I still loved Jesus, but we had a fall Sears catalog and there were matching “wet-look” jackets, his and hers and I thought if I could give my mom and dad a set, they would be hip and cool like the people in the catalog. Mama was the best in the world and Daddy knew everything, but they were not so fancy. When I tried to tell Mama why I wanted to get the jackets, she just said it wasn’t the kind of thing they would wear, so we got her another box of Fabergé powder and some pink house slippers and Daddy some more long brown dress socks and they were happy. I got corduroy pants and blue blazer. And I hated Christmas for all the disappointments it was and all the disappointments to come.

I don’t love Jesus, anymore,

but I still hate Christmas.

 

 

Mrs. Latham lived

across the road

and she played the piano at church and she was beautiful and her daughter, Regina was my best friend. I was in love with Mrs. Latham and she didn’t mind. Regina and Mrs. Latham and her husband lived in a nice brick house and we would go for Sunday dinners and for Regina’s birthday where we played “pin the tail on the donkey” and I won. And the Lawleys lived next door in an old wooden farm house with mules in the barn. They were Mrs. Latham’s parents and would come over sometimes when we came to visit. Somebody made macaroni with bacon on top and a thick layer of cheese over everything.

I liked macaroni like my Mamma made

Out of a blue box.

 

 

Sometimes we would go

to Regina’s grandma’s house

to play and she had cedar bushes growing along her long, low front porch and we would find the caterpillar eggs hanging from the limbs and they were like silky Christmas ornaments and we would rip them open to see the bug inside. No one told us not to and Mrs. Lawley would bring us little green bottles of Dr. Pepper that said “10, 2 and 4.” Mrs. Lawley’ house had an iron stove in the middle of a dark kitchen with a tin flue going off at an angle out the roof and in the in the winter the room

was hot and smelled

of pine knots.

 

 

 

Behind our house

but really more behind the church

a sandy path ran past Mamma’s garden and down to a little stream. My brother and I would go there to look for fish and tadpoles and build damns and other things. Mama took to resting a lot and she couldn’t see us where we played so sometimes we would walk up the creek through a large culvert under the federal highway and up onto the dirt parking lot of the truck stop. And the lady there would give us free candy and even though they came to Daddy’s church,

she never told our Mama we came

so we never got a whipping.

 

 

Henry was a little boy

about my age who came to church

with his grandma and one Sunday morning in the winter we got to watch old Mister Ellis vacuum wasps that came out from around the windows painted to look like stained glass. And one night during a revival meeting, he told me about his uncle who lived just across the tracks had tried to kill himself with a shotgun, but instead had blown his face off but was going to live. I tried to imagine why someone would do that and what it would be like

to live without a face.

 

 

Byron Brush was

almost my cousin

and he lived in a nearby town were his daddy was the preacher. One time he got to spend the day with me and we played in the creek and the teepee Daddy built out of old burlap sacks and a pine tree. But the thing I remember most was racing across the harvested corn field with broken stalks all askew to get to the GM&O train as it raced through the darkening dusk. He won by a mile

and I so wanted

to be Byron Brush.

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Black Snakes and Happy, furthermore

As I am getting wonderful encouragement and intelligent advice from talented friends and editors, I am moving forward with my collection/epic poem.

I am still struggling with the physical concept of layout. Currently I am leaning, on the  advice of my editor to  a paragraph  style with a  bit of modification.

 

Like this:

Twenty-Thirty-Seven Mona Lisa Drive,

the first address I ever needed to know

so I could tell someone how to get me home if I was ever lost or if the school needed to know, and I knew it the first day mama drove us to school. We rode in the back of the brown Dodge pickup with the wooden toolboxes on the sides never thinking until today what the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids must have thought. Later we rode our hand-me-down bikes the mile to school past a barking dog and the bully at the end of the street, past the Episcopal church

with its low hanging eaves

I could touch from the ground.

 

Actually, her suggestion was more like this:

 

Twenty-Thirty-Seven

Mona Lisa Drive,

the first address I ever needed to know

so I could tell someone how to get me home if I was ever lost or if the school needed to know, and I knew it the first day mama drove us to school.

We rode in the back of the brown Dodge pickup with the wooden toolboxes on the sides never thinking until today what the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids must have thought.

Later we rode our hand-me-down bikes the mile to school past a barking dog and the bully at the end of the street,

past the Episcopal church

with its low hanging eaves

I could touch

from the

ground.

 

As I see it, something like one of either of the above is better  than the  traditional style verses of short lines. The straight on paragraphs have twin problems as much as I tend to like them. The poems don’t look like poems to the casual observer, and my 80-100 poem book would only be  about 10 pages long, which would hardly  seem like a book and yet, it would be.

Any thoughts?

 

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Black Snakes and Happy

 

Connell’s Point, Arkansas

Mama’s green dress and hair in a tight bun holding me on the old wooden porch of the tiny parsonage, while daddy and my big brother bring Happy and her twelve puppies around the corner of the house,

looking for all the world like an unspotted version of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and me, a two-year old sitting on the porch amazed, transfixed and a little horrified, only now realizing this is my first memory of life.

 

 

Daddy and my big brother rush into the house where I am eating my biscuit with syrup and butter

“come see, come see, daddy killed a black snake!” my brother yelled. Biscuit in one sticky hand and mama holding the other I tumble out on the front porch to see a long black snake at the base of the steps neatly chopped into twelve bloody pieces. I peer over the edge down the three feet to the dirt

and finish my biscuit.

 

Across the way stood an old school house once painted, now gray clapboard rotted and sagging

and a poor family squatted there for a while. Twelve children, more boys than girls and the older boys would walk the top of the schoolyard swing sets like balance beams until they fell and moaned in the dirt.

 

My father the preacher, late for his own service with a washcloth spit washing our dirty faces and hands

and walking us across the dirt road to the church where we all sang a capela hymns and spirituals until daddy would get up and tell us stories.

 

Old men, to me, at age three, though much younger than I am now sitting after Sunday dinner with the preacher and his family, telling tales while the women cleaned up and all I remember is the smell of a house too many years heated by wood smoke

 

Two little boys in a stall shower, in a bathroom built onto the back porch, as an afterthought when indoor plumbing came, leaning out the back screen door to holler at mama, picking strawberries

in the little strip between the house and the cotton field, “mama where are the towels?” Mama in her yellow rubber gloves and straw hat wiping her brow with her arm, straightening, then peeling the gloves

and coming in to dry us off.

 

Vickie Moore where have you gone?

Behind the parsonage with the weeping willow tree that shaded our window, behind the cotton field,

lived Macleod Moore and his wife and daughter. On nice days all four of us would walk back the dirt road,

chasing grasshoppers and missing mud puddles and we brothers would play with Vickie, who had a nice toy box

and whose age fell half way in between ours but I was only three when we moved away. I never saw Vickie again

until my 14th summer when we were visiting and I saw this pretty girl in pigtails bouncing down the freshly graded road driving her daddy’s pickup truck. This past year when I called my old friend Donna Ray

to tell my mama had died, I asked about Vickie. “She, and her husband both died, a few years ago.

Cancer.”

Mama’s green dress

and hair in a tight bun

Holding me on the old wooden porch

of the tiny parsonage,

while daddy and my big brother

bring Happy and her twelve puppies

around the corner of the house,

looking for all the world like

an unspotted version

of One Hundred and One Dalmatians,

and me, a two-year old sitting

on the porch amazed,

transfixed and a little horrified,

only now realizing this is

my first memory of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy and my big brother

rush into the house

where I am eating my biscuit with syrup and butter

“come see, come see, daddy killed a black snake!”

my brother yelled.

Biscuit in one sticky hand

and mama holding the other

I tumble out on the front porch

to see a long black snake

at the base of the steps

neatly chopped into twelve bloody pieces.

I peer over the edge

down the three feet to the dirt

and finish my biscuit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the way

stood an old school house

once painted, now gray

clapboard rotted and sagging

and a poor family squatted there for a while.

Twelve children,

more boys than girls

and the older boys would walk the top

of the schoolyard swing sets

like balance beams

until they fell

and moaned in the dirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My father the preacher,

late for his own service

with a washcloth

spit washing our dirty faces and hands

and walking us across the dirt road

to the church where we all sang

a capela hymns and spirituals

until daddy would get up

and tell us stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old men,

to me,

at age three,

though much younger

than I am now

sitting after Sunday dinner

with the preacher and his family,

telling tales

while the women cleaned up

and all I remember is the smell

of a house too many years

heated by wood smoke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two little boys in a stall shower,

in a bathroom built onto the back porch,

as an afterthought when indoor plumbing came,

leaning out the back screen door

to holler at mama, picking strawberries

in the little strip between the house

and the cotton field,

“mama where are the towels?”

Mama in her yellow rubber gloves

and straw hat wiping her brow with her arm,

straightening,

then peeling the gloves

and coming in to dry us off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vickie Moore where have you gone?

Behind the parsonage

with the weeping willow tree

that shaded our window,

behind the cotton field,

lived Macleod Moore and his wife and daughter.

On nice days

all four of us would walk back the dirt road,

chasing grasshoppers and missing mud puddles

and we brothers would play with Vickie, who had a nice toy box

and whose age fell half way

in between ours

but I was only three when we moved away.

I never saw Vickie again

until my 14th summer

when we were visiting

and I saw this pretty girl

in pigtails bouncing down the freshly graded road

driving her daddy’s pickup truck.

This past year when I called

my old friend Donna Ray

to tell my mama had died,

I asked about Vickie.

“She, and her husband both

died, a few years ago.

Cancer.

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What I Don’t Know About Tacos

I could ask my mother I suppose

We had homemade tacos tonight

Tomatoes and sweet onions with patent numbers,

Mexican lettuce and Kraft’s version of cheese

Yet they were quite tasty

 

We baked the cardboard-boxed, shrink-wrapped

Pre-formed and cooked shells to a nice crunch

And I remembered tacos past

Being very young in Montgomery

Mama cooking the meat and the tacos

in skillets on the stove top

 

The tacos were the white soft, flat stacked kind

The meat a little greasy, draining on paper

Did she cook them in water or margarine?

I know it wasn’t butter, progress and all

Instant coffee, biscuit tubes, Kraft Mac and margerine

 

Where did she learn about tacos? In Mississippi?

At the ladies church luncheon? Better House Keeping?

I could ask her, but I never have, and why did she change

To the pre-made crunchy kind when I was in my teens?

And how did she cook on the stove top

In the summer in Alabama without A/C?

 

Where are the little grocery stores,

Meat in a case and fresh local produce

Stacked in bins and a few rows

of canned goods and staples

In short crowded aisles in between

 

I had a Mexican in-law for awhile

Once a year we would cook chicken tacos

An all day event and the night before, too

Tasty, but a lot of work, but they were Mexican

How did my mother come to make a taco?

How did she ever leave fried chicken

And slow oven roasted beef?

 

I could ask Mama, and maybe I will

Because there is a lot I don’t know about tacos

 

(I wrote this in 2003, unfortunately, I can no longer ask my mother, as she died this past January)

 

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