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I sassed her, and in some ways
I'm still paying for it.
Lanky and tall, I lick my lips
to grease the skids, slide
across the line of lost innocence.
I peel her damp dishwater hands
from my face, hands born
to yank cow teats, snap pole beans.
Gertrude grows on people,
or at least she tries to.
A jumber-jaw and protruding mole
form a face like a clumsy letter Q,
or a slightly-Slavic Reverend Billy Graham.
I draw a breath from my quiver
and let it fly: "You are not my aunt,
Gertrude. Do you hear me?
Not blood kin."
Pentecostal buns nearly come undone.
Ice sweats uncomfortably in mason jars.
I speak the truth:
Gertrude is no relative.
She is Mee Maw's best friend.
This is their ritual, not mine.
Every Saturday, planted like boxwoods
around the small kitchen table,
they snack on hot homemade
fried peach pies
and cold, sweetened
Lipton iced tea.
Talk till noon.
They return to pretend,
smooth over rumpled dresses
and my words.
Grandmother reminds: "Young lady,
that dress you're wearing was a gift,
store-bought for you by your
Aunt Gertrude--thankless child."
The moment is mapless.
I am fresh preserves between these
two doughy crusts.
I refill their teas (overfull),
wipe glass-sweat on my flowerdy shorts,
salute the now "Mrs. Frazier" adieu,
avoid the serpent slits
of my grandmother's eyes,
through the door
to ride my bike.
Pilgrimage to Aunt Virginia's
Cheese and crackers litter the floorboard of the silver Eldorado.
Air is car-travel stale, an odor like feet.
When the dust clears from our labored turn into the gravel lot,
six emerge--sophisticates against the front porch of a failing country store.
An electric Co-Cola sign, a swinging screen door between worlds.
The sign don't lie; green bottles cool in a chin-high metal box inside.
We pass rows of waving Nilla Wafers on the shelves.
In the back of the store a sinister room lures us:
A flaking, putrid
decays in a four-poster bed.
Eyes the size of chicken eggs
that could have been
laid this morning
and sold this afternoon.
Her head sways there,
sweats a dirty pillow.
Grand Ole Opry
on the radio.
The near-song she sings
"If you're happy and you know it nod your head."
It's desperate, like crying:
"I'm out on Plymouth
sitting on a rock."
The pilgrim fires her line
buckshot into our New World.
We take it in the chest, faceless relatives shuffling around her bed
embarrassed to acknowledge this specter.
Uncle Brother offers me a brush to stroke the death hair.
I imagine years will clump out into my hands.
I cling there to the roof of my mouth and my mother's leg.