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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About anthonyuplandpoetwatkins

https://www.goodreads.com/AnthonyUplandpoetWatkins born in Jackson, The United States August 04, 1959 gender male website http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorI... genre Poetry, Historical Fiction influences James M. Lancaster, Brenda Black White, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Al Filreis member since March 2011 About this author edit data As one of the most public lives ever lived by a private citizen, there is little about me that isn't already available at Facebook or Shelfari and countless other places. Poet, writer, construction worker, salesman, truck driver, climber into the attics of total strangers, father and husband, and all around one of the luckiest men on the planet. My luck continued with a win in the June Goodreads Newsletter Contest! What an honor! http://anthonyuplandpoetwatkins.wordp... Additional Influences: Bob Dylan, William Faulkner, Barbara Kingsolver, Gloria Naylor, Eudora Welty
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2 Responses to Black Snakes and Happy, Jasper and Active

  1. I envy you the richness and specificity of your memories… Mine seem faded in comparison.

    • not sure why i hold them as clear as yesterday. there are about 3-4 photos of me between ages 0-4 years, but i have sharp memories from age two, like my own photo album of the mind. sometimes i go back and study those images. recently it occurred to me that i was the only one who could see them, and maybe i ought to write them down so other folks could have a look. glad you have enjoyed sharing them with me. i was worried they might be too personal to have a broader meaning, but i wanted to chronicle them.

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