Selah.
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Passing of a Muddy Thing

--after Otto Dix, “Corpse of a Horse”

A quiet moment. The men are hiding. Intermittent crackings and crashings made damp in the thunder-dark; between them, pauses fall on frayed eardrums.

A fallen animal screams, splayed legs, stomach open, caught in some blast moments before. A hollowed-out creature filling with rainwater. Wind-battered drops on bare ribs draw three-legged convulsions from the thing.

The noises it makes do not carry. It’s an odd and intimate affair, this horse in the gathering mud with its panting, its head strained back. It sneezes. The noise does not carry, lost by way of rain.

Dirt in its open eyes, it lies prone in the field: sprawled, smoldering.

*

Someone in the trench raises his gun and levels it with the head of the beast, but the twitching has ceased.

 

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Short Conferencing

A sad portrait with those green-blue-greys hangs in the office:

a bearded boy and baby-faced man are embracing

(no one asks

how the big guy in the big chair is feeling,

 

 

but I hear he’s doing awfully

Small.

 

When

he opens any drawer around his

colleague, he shivers some and

forgets the pencil in the drawer,

closing it on his thumb. What

 

                is pain when done

                (to something other than

The self) wants.

He greets the other man, they

shake

hands, they nod back

to desks. Someone’s grinning.

                    What’s felt

                    is in the men’s

                    finger-tips,

                    all of them.

 

Feet sliding, you shuffle over

skin of trees (mossless);

It certainly is springtime (knees callous

lightly Tearing with blood

rising from beneath skin) above

and over leaves, lights of red

with green. I never get to see your

backwardness in action, for wind shoves

 

your body back into soils chest.

How I hear its screams at you

this afternoon (I am almost sure)

You should be dead.

broken man, you did avoid

the suns light and spring’s mistress.

 

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Concrete and Carpet

 

 

I could see the sun every morning when it rose through the great window that went the entire length of the prison hall. But the window was a foggy one, that made the images from the other side blurry like a letter that was written in ink that has had a cup of coffee spilled over it.

Sometimes I could see black spots in the window, but I couldn’t tell if they were planes or birds. A romantic would say they were birds, a realist would say that they were planes, but a prisoner would say that they are flies because only a prisoner has time for neither romanticism or realism.

 

I would meet with the prison psychologist once every three weeks.  He would always speak English with me.

English had become the language that was spoken by all of the “educated” and all those who didn’t speak English were considered to be “uneducated” and “unworthy” of having an important job, like being a psychologist or judge or doctor. Every language that wasn’t English was grouped into one language called “not language.” Some people in the prison spoke English, but there were some that only spoke a not language. Those who only spoke a not language were unable to understand the judges, the prison psychologist, and the guards. So, they were always having to go blind into everything since translators weren’t granted to anyone. Most of the guards also spoke a not language, but they thought it was beneath them to speak to the prisoners in anything but English.

He asked me, “Are you ashamed of what you did?”

I could never remember why it was that I had become a prisoner.

“Am I supposed to feel that way?”

The psychologist would only ever frown and write down notes before sending me out to think more about how I should’ve answered.

I didn’t remember anymore what was suppose to be outside of the prison, so it didn’t bother me so much that I wasn’t allowed to leave. I didn’t even remember how long I had been there. All I knew was that I was young when I first entered the prison and that after a while I was no longer that way.

 

I never had any visitors, except for a woman who would come only every three months. She would sit behind the glass really quietly, just watching me, and she’d wait until there were only three more minutes allowed to our visit, then she would tell me about a grocery store and leave. The last visit she had told me, “Í dag er afmæli kjörbúðarinnar.”

When she left I turned to the man next to me and told him what she had just told me, and he said that he knew. I didn’t understand how he understood.

 

The prison was a very strange place. It was a living thing in which we were all organs, detrimental to its survival.

 

The psychologist called me in again a few weeks later. He asked me the same question. And I gave him the same answer. But this time was different. He did not frown this time. He was, it seemed, sympathetic.

“Try to deconstruct myself; to think,” he said.

I didn’t understand.

 

I stared at the ceiling that night from my bed. I never thought about the prison before. It just was. It was just a being that existed. No one really knew where it came from, except that it just showed up one day and they started to shovel people in, and people usually didn’t leave.

I never wondered anymore what was outside, but also I no longer knew what was inside of myself either.

And so, I climbed out of bed and knelt before the cinder block wall. The mountain of cement keeping me from the world; keeping the world from me. I felt the cold blocks, their grit against my palm, and ran my finger along the grout between blocks.  When I pulled my hand away from the block, the block had stuck to my hand and came away from the wall.

Through the hole in the wall, I could see nothing. There was nothing on the other side, so I put the block back.

 

I went to sleep with peace that night, knowing that there was no longer an outside, just an inside- and that’s where all life was.

The next day I was watching the window. A panel fell from the window and shattered on the ground. The other prisoners began to fight over the shards of glass and stab each other with the pieces. Guards came and began to beat the prisoners and to taze them. Then it became not a fight between the prisoners anymore, but a fight between the guards and prisoners. It wasn’t a fair fight. The guards began to use their guns.

I pressed myself deeper into my cell and looked through the small box the foggy window panel use to hide. I could see the sun.

That afternoon, a sheet of cardboard was taped over the small box, and I could no longer see the sun. But I had seen it, and to know that it existed was enough.

 

In the dining hall, the men sat in rows, clothed in their grey uniforms which made them look paler than what they already were. There was a silence as they ate their breakfast. The carpet made everything quite; muffled every sound till it suffocated. The guards from yesterday’s fight stood by the door, blocking the only exit to the cafeteria. If there was a fire they’d be the only ones to survive. Surely they would lock the door behind them.

Their faces were bruised and bandaged. Those were the only souvenirs they had collected from their trip down to our world, our level, yesterday. The prisoners who had fought against them were not in the dining hall. They had left the prison. They were granted the only type of freedom that the prison knows.

 

The prison psychologist asked me, “Why is it that you can’t remember things?”

    “I can’t remember,” I told him.

I felt that my answer was not a good one, but I felt that his question wasn’t a good one either.

It used to frustrate me to not remember. Sometimes I would cry because I felt as though I had lost something that was important; that I had lost something that was the last thing tying me to the outside. But all I could remember was the prison. I would spend days in my cell trying to remember all of the things I had forgotten. It made me wonder if there were even things that I had forgotten. But it was not so frustrating anymore to think this way. If I couldn’t remember then there was nothing to remember.

 

I sat in my cell and would be very still. I was trying to hear the book cart being pushed down the hall past each cell. The book cart never stopped; it only pushed past each cell, never offering any of the prisoners any books. It never seemed to be pushed by the librarian behind the cart, instead, it seemed to be pulled forward by an invisible string from the end of the hall. It was a performance, and it was silent. The wheels were oiled once a week, which often times stained the carpet no matter how upset the janitor would get. I would hang my head between the bars when the janitor came. I liked to watch him cry as he massaged dawn soap into the carpet with one hand and rubbed bleach into it with the other. We didn’t speak. I’d like to know why he loves the carpet so much. I’d like to appreciate it in the way that he does, but it only ever makes my skin red and splotchy from when I have sat on it for too long, and in the early morning it makes me sneeze.

Later that week, the woman came to visit me again. She was wearing a green blouse that matched the green paint that is chipping off of the cinder blocks in the visitor room. She watched me through the glass. I was a fish in a bowl for her. She looked at her watch, then told me, “Kjörbúðin fékk nýja mottu í dag.”

She stood up and left. I turned to the man sitting next to me to tell him what she had said, but he, too, already knew.

I wondered where she went when she would leave. Where do all of the visitors go when they leave? I use to think that the prison had a closet, or a waiting room, in which they could keep all of the visitors until it was time for them to visit again.

I wondered if the other prisoners who received visitors didn’t know their visitors either; if these visitors were people created or hired by the prison. They existed solely to remind us that we were prisoners, because if we no longer thought there was an outside then we became just a community in a box. They needed us to think there was an outside; to know that there was something that was being kept from us. Then we would be unhappy.

But I stopped thinking these things. These thoughts weren’t possible because of the Kjörbúðin.

 

We showered three times a week. When we showered the room would grow steamy, and the air would be so thick that all you were able to see was the shower knobs on the wall in front of you. The water was sulphuric. The whole room would smell of rotten eggs. All I could ever think about while showering was my grandfather. It was good that he was never in prison. Taking a shower here would have killed him. He was allergic to sulfur. But it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the harshness of the water against my skin and the way it would make my hair squeak when I’d run my thumbnail against it.

In movies, they always show people being raped in the prison showers or knifed with some crude object fashioned into a weapon. Our showers were different, however. Showers were a time when everyone avoided each other. It was a place of true space, and safety to be alone. Usually, when people weren’t in the shower they were always getting into each other’s faces, pushing each other around, doing anything to make themselves big. But in the shower everyone was small. No one wanted to be accused of being gay. We were all twelve again; showering before going into the pool.

 

I knew that we had all once been something before we became prisoners. We had all spent years learning a skill to one day do something. But no one could remember what they had once been. It no longer mattered. And, so they forgot their skills. There was nothing for them to hope to someday do.

They grunted and walked big, held down corners of the prison as their territory, and picked out the weaker animals that had not adapted as well to the environment.

That’s what happened to my cellmate. I use to share my cell with a wiry boy who had hair the color of the tip of a matchstick. He was too thin to walk big and his voice not yet deep enough to grunt like the others, and he had no knowledge of the different territories.

He was only here for a week before the prison set him free.

 

The prison had a pool then. I don’t know where it has gone now. Perhaps it is beneath the gym floor; filled with cement after so many prisoners had been drowned in that pool.

When the pool was there, I spent a lot of my time floating and looking out of the foggy window that was just above the pool there. This window was different from the window in the hall. This window had purple drapes, with small tassels that hung from the bottom. I once broke off one of the tassels when I was alone and put it in my mouth to see if it tasted as dusty as what the drapes looked to be. It did not taste dusty, but instead tasted sweet almost, and so I swallowed the tassel.

The foggy window grew dark and grey and I could hear rumbling. It was a rumble that shook the prison. I hid in the showers and left the lights off. The darkness around me shook, but the rumbling could not see me, and therefore could not touch me.

 

A guard from the evening shift once forgot his chair at the top of the stair where he had sat all night. When I found this chair I sat in it. The metal was cold and bit my bones, but still, I wanted to stay in the chair. I felt a sense of power sitting in that chair and enjoyed staring people down as they came up the stairs or walked down the hall. These people looked at me in a different way, as though I was now one of the prisoners to watch out for. I spent each day sitting in the chair. I no longer watched the sun in the window or tried to hear the book cart being pushed past the cells. I sat in the chair. But then one day someone noticed their mistake, and the chair was picked up. So, I went back to watching the sun in the window and trying to hear the book cart being pushed past the cells.

 

The next time I went to the prison psychologist he had a better question. I never really understood our meetings that much. It was as though his only purpose was to guide me in the direction of how I was supposed to spend my time thinking while here. But his questions were always so dull that I could only bear to think of them for as long as fifteen or so minutes before starting to think of something else. We stared at each other for a while before he asked me a question.

People who aren’t prisoners finding starring very uncomfortable and will do anything to avoid it. However, for a prisoner, it is a way of understanding to stare at something. It is the only way we are able to see things. We have to stare at each other, the walls, the windows, our lovers- we aren’t allowed to touch things; just see things.

He asked me, “Do you feel that you ever miss anything from the outside?”

“Am I supposed to miss something from the outside?”

“It is healthy to.”

So, I shrugged. I didn’t feel unhealthy so his question did not seem important to me.

He wrote down a few notes. I think he should’ve been a writer instead. He was always writing things down and always asking so many questions.

We sat a little longer in silence. I believe he was waiting for me to say something. He doesn’t know that prisoners don’t speak so much out loud. They have no one really to speak to, so it is only noise that would be beaten into silence by the carpet if you were to speak aloud. Either way, it didn’t seem to matter if I spoke or not since usually when I did speak it was never what he was wanting to hear.

He told me that he didn’t think we needed to meet anymore.

 

The first few years I spent in prison time went slowly. It was as though there were days in every hour and hours in every minute. But the more time you spend in prison the faster time goes by.

 

The next time I was asked to go anywhere by the guards I was escorted to a small closet. At first, I thought that maybe I had been right, and this was the closet that they kept the visitors in. But it was not. The walls were a different color than the rest of the prison. The prison was either a deep green or an off-white color- only I didn’t know if it was off-white from not being cleaned all these years or if because they painted it a white that would hide the grime so they wouldn’t have to clean over all of these years.

This room was grey. Like our uniforms.

There was no window for a visitor. Nor was there a table for a meeting or interrogation.

There was, instead, a camera attached to a stick. And, there was a monitor perched above the camera. Like a bird.

There was an X taped on the carpet with red electrical tape. The guards closed the door behind me. And I heard a click.

The monitor came on and I saw a man in a black robe sitting behind a large wooden desk. His face was large and lumpy like a ball of clay. He wore small round wire glasses that seemed to be pinched to his face by his sagging bushy eyebrows. His mouth was so wide it looked like it would droop off the sides of his face. Then he spoke.

       “Do you know what sits here before me?”

I didn’t understand why they were showing me this odd film.

When he spoke, his voice was small and tired from yelling at people for so long.

I watched this film.

       “It’s the psychologist report. And do you know what it says?”

It did not appear as though the man was speaking, except for just wobbling his jaw and the sounds he made just so happened to make sense.

       “It said that you have made no effort to reconcile your actions, you have no remorse for the crimes you’ve committed, and that your time spent here will no longer be of any benefit to yourself or the state-”

The man’s jaw kept wobbling and more and more sounds continued to fall from his lips in a sloppy order. His face grew red as he spoke, but he did not sound angry.

       “It has been decided by myself and the council and a jury of the people that you shall be moved to death row and sentenced to death by lethal injection. You shall be visited by a priest sometime during your final days for the sake of your mortal soul.”

The man stopped wobbling and the red ran from his face until it was a pale color once again. Then the monitor went black. And there was a click and the door opened.

“Why did you show me the film,” I asked the guards.

But they did not answer. Even then it was a waste for me to ask since rarely did they answer seriously anyway. But for them to not even answer was out of character. They liked to take any opportunity they could to tease or harass the prisoners. Maybe they didn’t understand why either.

 

The woman only came to visit me once more. It was a strange visit. She sat there behind the glass, watching me as usual, but quietly crying. Her makeup didn’t run or smudge. Her tears were only allowed to fall in the same path one after another. She looked at me with something in her eyes that I didn’t understand, and no matter how hard I stared I still was unable to understand. It looked like something was falling inside of her.

She looked at her watch and sighed, then told me, “Kjörbúðin er lokuð.”

Then she stood briskly and left.

“Hvað?” I asked.

But the man on my right hushed me. The man on my left gave me an irritated look, “Hún sagði, ‘Kjörbúðin er lokuð’.”

“Takk…”

I still didn’t understand.

The guards grabbed me by the arms and pushed me out the door of the visitor’s room.

 

There was an odd air in the prison. Like the steam from the shower room was slowly starting to fill the whole prison and all I could see before me was the bars of my prison cell and the carpet beneath me. Something was wrong. Something was broken. The prison was starting to deteriorate. The fog was just the septic air bubbling up from the organs just before they give out and let the body die.

Out of the fog, I could hear someone weeping. At first, I thought it was the prisoner in the cell next to mine. But then I heard the sound of the carpet being massaged and rubbed. It was the janitor cleaning the carpet again.

I stuck my head between the bars and squinted my eyes to try to see him more clearly through the fog. There he was kneeling on the carpet scrubbing and crying. He wore a big blue canvas jumpsuit that he had sewn pads onto the knees so he wouldn’t get bruises from kneeling.

“Hvað ert þú að gera?”

He sniffled and looked up to see who had spoken to him. He wiped his eyes on the back of his exposed wrists.

“Ég er að þrífa,” he muttered and went back to scrubbing.

       “Af hverju?”

He stopped scrubbing.

       “Bara, það er ekki hreint hérna.”

I watched him as he continued to grind his knuckles into the carpet, grinding the soap into the fibers and then rubbing bleach into it.

   

The next day the fog had cleared. But I still sat in my cell in case it rose up again. That way I wouldn’t get lost in the prison.

I was sitting very still. I was listening. My back was against the cinder block wall and my feet were buried in the carpet.

There was a squeaking sound that continued to loop as it went past each cell. The book cart rolled past my cell. I stared at the wheels; each was squeaking incessantly.

This was the first time I’d ever heard the book cart. And now I wished I’d never listened to it; its squeaking was like a scream bouncing off each cinder block to attack me from every angle.

 

The guards told me I had a visitor, but I was surprised when I saw that it was not the woman. Instead, it was a priest. And we did not meet in the visitor’s room, but in a different room with a wooden table in the center. There was no glass separating us. A guard stood by the door.

He greeted me by calling me his son. I didn’t understand. He was not my father. My father had never been a religious man, even though he called food his religion.

He asked me to have a seat with him. I didn’t feel like sitting since I’d been sitting all day, but I sat anyway because I was unsure of how long we would be talking.

       “I know this must be tough, my son, but I am certain that God will have mercy on your soul if you repent and sign your assets over to the church.”

I watched the priest. His collar was so tight it looked as though it might choke him at any moment if it were to become angered.

I just watched him as he continued to speak. I found it more interesting to watch people speak than to listen to what they are saying because I found it to be such an ugly act. The way people move their lips and the gurgling and choking sounds that bubble up from people's throats and then roll around in their mouths before being spit out like distasteful food.

       “Jesus loves you very much. It would make him cry to have to cast you into the fiery pits of Hell,” he said and pushed a legal document across the table towards me. I skimmed the page and saw that it was a pre-written will saying that I left my assets to the church and that I hoped by doing this God would have mercy on my soul.

The priest pushed a blue pen into my hand and taped the line that I was supposed to sign. It occurred to me that he thought I didn’t speak English. Perhaps he thought this because I hadn’t bothered to speak to him during our meeting.

He smiled and nodded and pointed again to the line on the paper encouragingly.

It would’ve made most people angry to know that others thought that they could take advantage of them so easily; that others thought that they could manipulate them like children.

I signed my name on the line. I didn’t care what this man thought of me; I didn’t even know who he was. Nor did I care that all of my assets would go to the church; for all I knew, I had none.

I did not sign my name out of desperation for forgiveness. I signed my name because I felt that it wasn’t important.

       “Thank you, my son. May God smile upon you.”

He grabbed my hand and shook it more vigorously than the rumbling. Then he left and I didn’t see him again.

 

After my visit with the priest, I was not taken back to my cell. I was taken to a different cell. It looked the same, but I knew it was different because it was in a different hall. I knew this hall was different too because I could not see the big window. There wasn’t a window. There was only an off-white cinder block wall. I thought that maybe one of the blocks would fall, just as one of the window panels had, and I would be able to see something on the other side. I didn’t know if it would be the sun this time. But, it was also difficult to imagine what I’d see if a cinder block fell since I couldn’t see anything. All I could imagine I would see would be the black nothingness again since that was all that I had ever seen behind a cinder block.

This hall was quieter than the other hall, and I often times wondered if maybe I was the only one staying in this hall. I liked the idea of having the hall to myself. It was like having the chair to myself. I felt like I was in a position of power to have such a big space. Like a king in a palace. But surely, they’d realize their mistake in a few days and take it away. Just like they had done with the chair.

 

After a few days went by they still had not realized their mistake, and left me alone in the empty hall. But things had changed. The door to my cell was no longer open, and I was no longer let out of my cell. My meals were pushed through a slot in the door by a hand that belonged to no one. I thought it was considerate of them to bring me my meals, and thanked them each time they pushed a new meal through the door. I truly had become a king. I was even the type of king with servants.

Even though I was a king, they would not allow me to go to the pool anymore. I liked to think that it was because the pool was being renovated so that it’d be more fit for a king, but I knew that wasn’t why. Yet I didn’t know why, either.

I now showered alone as well. But that was no different I suppose since usually, I couldn’t even see the other people taking a shower in the room with me. However, since I was the only one showering it did not get as steamy as what it usually did in the room. I had liked the steam very much. It had been like a veil, and now that the veil was gone I was alone and exposed in my own humanness.

In my new cell, there was a smell that sometimes floated in. It smelled of burning tar and sour shag carpet. It must’ve been the rest of the organs in the prison breaking down completely and the body beginning to rot. Since I hadn’t even seen the rest of the prison in such a long time I wondered if it was even still there, or if something had happened to that part of the prison.

 

I was lying in bed and watching the ceiling. I wondered if there was anything above me. A cinder block fell from the corner of the ceiling and broke in two on the floor. I sat up and looked at the hole in the ceiling and the broken block on the floor. I could hear the hasty footsteps of guards running down the hall to my cell. I could hear them fumbling with the keys outside my door. When they opened the door they saw the block on the floor and yanked me from the cell. I was moved immediately to the cell right next to that one. The door was slammed. It was the same as the other cell. Except this cell had all of the cinder blocks in its ceiling.

 

The next day I was taken from my cell once more and escorted by two guards down my hall. We walked through one hall, down another, and up the other. These were halls I didn’t recognize. And was a part of the prison I had never been to before.

We stopped before a door at the end of a hall that I did not know and waited. I expected there to be another cell identical to the one I had just come from. However, when they opened the door I saw a hall of a chain linked fence with barbed wire curling around the top. There was a sky instead of a ceiling. The sky was grey, as though it had inhaled all of the smoke burning from the body of the prison over the past days. There were trees on the other side of the fence. Their leaves were orange, making them look like their tops were on fire.

I could not see the sun that I had seen on the day that the window panel had fallen. It must’ve been behind the clouds.

We walked through the door and into the fence hallway. It was cold outside. It must be fall.

The grass was yellow.

When we reached the end of the fence hall there was another door. And that door brought us back inside.

This room was different. It was a room split in two. There was the room I was standing in and a room that I could not see behind a tinted window. That room surely held people. I do not know how many people. But I am sure that the other room was not empty.

In my room, there was a table draped in a cloth. This table had two doctors standing next to it. Their faces were covered. I could not see who they were, but I wouldn’t have known them anyway.

The two guards laid me down on the table and strapped belts around my wrists, ankles, waist, chest, and forehead. The belts were attached to the table. I could not move.

One of the doctors asked me if I had prepared any words. I didn’t know. I knew they were about to grant me my freedom. I wasn’t certain if this was what I wanted. Where would I go once free? Was I supposed to do something?

“Er þetta ekki heimilið mitt?”

But the doctor didn’t understand. He had grown up with parents who were both teachers for a university up north. So, he only spoke English.

He turned to the window and said, “He has nothing. We shall proceed.”

The two doctors placed two machines that hovered just above my right and my left arm. They flipped a switch on both of the machines. Then they both left the room.

I could hear the machines ticking as they prepared themselves. Then there was a long tick, as though it had gotten stuck. Needles launched themselves into either of my arms and released a fluid that burned my veins.

I felt heavy. As though lead had just been injected into my veins. The fluid began to make the room grow foggy like the showers. And I was safe.

 

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You Will Fall, and I Will Be There To Catch You.

 

There are those who have always dreamt of flying. But what will you do when the world is so small you could hold her in your hand? The landscape of mountains transformed into rolling mounds of inept desperation. See, for me, I have always dreamt of swaying with her trees, growing roots beneath the sand, never allowing the shallow waves of storm to wash my soul away. My flowers will be cleaned but never trimmed. Your wings will melt when too close to the sun, the same sun that provides my being with nourishment.


 

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Lemon Tree

You sit on my balcony and stare at me

My wonderful exotic lemon tree -

I dug up your roots and took you from the sun

Only to put you in a pot where you would surely rot -

But I liked the way you made me feel

The colour of your shade, leaves rustling in the breeze -

I thought that you could shield me from the cold

But you wilted and shrivelled under my icy glare -

Why did I steal your home just to leave you out there?

I wish I could put you back where you belong

Forgive me, my beautiful lemon tree -

I know I was wrong.

 

Red Rain

I sense the storm that will drown me
The red sea is all around me
Rusted rain comes pouring down upon me
Sting my poisoned skin
Rotten thoughts ferment my sins
The red sea is all over me
Lunar cycles turn me to crimson water
And bury the child within.

 

 

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Where is the South?
 
It’s funny that the South is technically just a geographical location, because to me, it’s all about the people. The South spans from Texas, to Oklahoma, across to North Carolina and downward, excluding parts of Florida, in my mind. The landscape of these places are very different, some states have swamps and others have mountains, but they all seem to share the ideas and customs that make them Southern. 
 
 
What constitutes the South?
 
Family and tradition are the biggest focuses of Southern culture. I think people who live here are much more likely to grow up surrounded by extended family and to stay living in the same general area for most of their lives. I’ve noticed that miles are perceived as longer here, like if a family member is moving one city away it’s a big deal while in other places this distance would still be considered small. There are also a lot more Christians living here. This sometimes dictating people’s moral codes and determines who they associate with. Church causes families to spend a lot of time together, making them even closer and makes sure that they see each other regularly.  Southern hospitality may seem like a stereotype, but it really seems to be true. Southern people are friendly and very talkative. They tend to be very open and quick to invite people into their lives. 
 
 
What stereotypes have you confronted outside the South?
 
Traveling outside the South has given me the impression that some people view the New Orleans area as too easy going. People from here are often not taken seriously and looked down upon, being judged for only what happens on Bourbon street and during Mardi Gras.  On the other hand, many Southerners from other areas are viewed as being too uptight and too bound to their traditions, sometimes putting tradition over morality. They are seen as excessively polite, not necessarily genuine, and extremely judgmental.  Also, it seems like Southerners, as a whole, are typically viewed as less intelligent than people from other places. I think some people still imagine the South as being all farmland, while viewing the North as more industrialized. 
 
 
How does being in the South affect your process as an artist?
 
Probably mostly in my descriptions of scenery. In many of my short stories the weather is hot and humid, and there are almost always the ever present buzzing of mosquitoes. This makes the characters stay indoors for the most part and when they do find themselves outside, they inevitable comment on the heat and their moods are affected. For some this makes the easily irritable, and in others it can cause laziness and detaches them from the situation. And although I’m not religious, contemplation of Christianity and how it affects believers and non-believers reoccurs in my work. Religion itself is a difficult concept to grasp, so I take a lot of inspiration from those around me who are extremely religious and those who are distinctly opposed to it. 
 
Do you consider yourself to be Southern?
 
Not really. To me, a large part of the Southern heritage is rooted in tradition and family. Even though I’ve lived here most of my life, my family is not from here, or anywhere near here, so we don’t have traditions like family crawfish boils or attending parades together. I’ve been to crawfish boils, of course, but always as a guest, not a host, and I go to parades every year, but I sometimes still feel like a tourist. Also, I did not grow up attending church and honesty do not know very much about the Christian faith so I don’t think it would be fair to consider myself truly Southern. I’m more of a tourist in my own home.

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The Tragedy

I.


Tonight, I have to get some supplies from your work, the big craft store by our apartment. I walk in late, a half hour before closing. I thought you would be off by now, and I don't see your car. Hopefully, you’re out drinking or shooting up so I can go home in peace. I use the restroom and when I go back to the floor, you're putting Christmas decorations on the shelves from a cart. That’s right. It’s November. Bing Crosby plays over the intercom, and you bob your head. I grab my embroidery thread, needles, and hoop and walk quickly to the register so I get out of your sight. There are two people in front of me: a teenage girl and an older woman. You walk up to the counter to grab a new basket of items. You see me, and we stare at each other. You stop walking. There is no anger or love in your eyes. Your eyes are empty.

Hi, I say. I’m shaking.
You're mute. You walk behind the register, pick up another full basket and begin sorting. The girl on the register asks the older woman to check out. I am nervous, my left leg goes numb, and half my body is burning up. I try to keep my legs steady, and my arms feel tight. I see scabs on your arms where I hurt you. Your lip looks busted open, either from my blow or your biting. The woman at the register starts to tell your coworker about her son at college and his half scholarship for football, and she can't remember the phone number for the rewards card. Perhaps it’s under her husband’s phone number. Or the old house in Metairie. Or her daughter’s phone number. It’s the daughter’s. You keep sorting, keeping your eyes down. I am visibly shaking, my eyes burning from holding back tears. I feel like I have a fever, and I’m shaking so much I drop my wallet. The woman behind me clears her throat loudly, and now my right leg goes numb. You walk away with your cart, looking away from me, and I am next in line. I go to the register. I check out. Under three dollars. The girl tells me to have a great night, and informs me that they’re hiring at this location.

No, thank you, I say. I walk out, tears running down my face.



 

II.

 

We were married when we were eighteen. You were turning nineteen in a couple weeks. We live by the court house, so we had our breakfast, signed the papers, had the ceremony, went home, and had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. You shaved your goatee for the occasion, thinking there were going to be pictures taken. No one took a picture. Our mothers were working, and our fathers were on planes. We were alone, but we were okay. That night, to consummate the marriage, we watched a documentary on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and instead of arguing, we agreed. That was our pillowtalk: addressing the blame of the United States bombing over one hundred thousand people and cities full of innocent people. We talked for hours, we looked up pictures and found out any information we could. That was our honeymoon.

 

 

III.

You come home late. I am in the spare bedroom, watching an old movie. I don't get up to see you, but I hear you get in bed with the squeaky headboard your grandmother gave us. You don't make yourself a plate. You usually do. Half hour later, I go to use the bathroom, and you're in the shower. The shower has an old, rickety sliding door, and I see you naked. Your eyes are closed, you let the hot water run down every crevice of your body. I wipe the fog off the mirror enough so I can apply my blemish cream. You don't seem to notice me. I go back to bed. Two in the morning, I can't fall asleep. And I don't want to close my eyes or I'll just relive what happened earlier today. Two thirty in the morning and I go to your bedroom, stand in the doorway. You're wide awake, looking at the ceiling. You have to be up by seven tomorrow morning. You're confined to your side of the bed; you don't spread out when I'm not there. My side is still made up from this morning. You see me.
Come here, you say. I stand still.
Please. I won't hurt you, you say.
I climb into bed, and you wrap your arm around me. I nuzzle my face into your chest. You used the cucumber soap your mother gave you.
I have to leave you, I say.
I know, you respond. 

 

IV.

 

You and I didn't plan on both taking English at the same time on the same days, but that's how the divine planned it . You wrote in your notebook and suddenly stopped. You asked why I don't say I love you anymore.
Because some people don't say it back, I said.

You moved hair out of your eyes and adjusted your barrette. You haven't had your hair cut in six months, and it shows. Your hair is curly, wavy, and stringy in some places. You prefer it this way. You said it's a way of figuring out who you are, how you can start looking like a man and not a teenager. I think it makes you look dirty, unkempt.

We write for about a half hour in silence. The air was heavy, and the bags under your eyes weighed down.
Do you want to leave? I said.
No, you said. You wrote. You scratched at a scar by your cheekbone and ran your fingers through the hair on the back of your head.

Okay.

You will… never become an artist, you said. 
I threw my notebook at you. That was enough. You knew that was a weak spot for me, the fact that I can’t control my hands like you or outline as well or mix paint perfectly every time. You knew that. You sat in shock and blink a couple times. You threw yours at me. I began to cry, and I couldn’t stop myself. I threw my textbook at you in retaliation, and you stood up. You're tall, and I'm a little more than half your height so I balled up in the chair. You pushed the table into me, your laptop shut, and my water spilled. I tried to crawl under the table to get to the door, but you stood before it, blocking the door knob. I stood up and put my cheek on your chest. Your heart was beating hard, and I heard your breath, unsteady and shaky. My fists twisted your shirt, and I pushed you against the door. You pinned me to the table, I sank my fingernails in your arms before kneeing you in the stomach. You cried out in pain, and I was wiping at tears on my cheeks. I stood away from the table, but you pushed me against the wall and wrapped your hand around my throat, a loose grip as if you're threatening to choke me if I made the wrong move. You started to tighten your grip, and I attempted to hit you across your cheek. You were unfazed. You were furious, and your intentions were sadistic. The veins on your neck popped out, and I wondered if you would suffocate me here or let me go with mercy. I had a throbbing pain at the back of my skull, and I couldn't breathe. You loosened your grip, and you took your hands off me. You stood up straight, wiped the blood off your arms, and stopped biting your lip. You backed up, looking at your own hands. I straightened the conference room table and pack up my things. I left.
 


V.

 

I pull a shirt on and go to the balcony to smoke a cigarette. My lip burns from picking off skin, and my throat aches from where you squeezed. I didn’t know how tight your grip was. It’s morning. I smoke two cigarettes before you come outside with two cups of coffee, dressed for the day. You take a seat on the stool next to me and hand me my mug.

I was wrong. You can be an artist… if you want, you say.

I don’t say anything.

Honey, I have to go to school early. I have to print out my paper in the library, you say.

Which one?

The philosophy one.

Oh. Good luck, I say. Our apartment faces the woods and the parking lot. Across the way is an abandoned bowling alley and a Vietnamese restaurant that gets about three customers a day.

Are you really going to leave me? you say. I’m quiet. I don’t know.

I don’t know, I say.

Oh. Well, I love you.

Okay.

You go to school. You kiss the top of my head when I start my breakfast of eggs and French Toast before you leave. I know if I go, I will just come back. The way I have been doing for five years. If I pack my boxes, I won’t be able to keep them unpacked. I decide I’m not going to school today. I can’t bear listening to the Chemistry professor when my head is still throbbing and my eyes are dry from crying. I go back to sleep.

When I wake up, you’re watching television in the living room. Will & Grace. It’s dark outside.

Did you eat?  I ask.

No, you say. I grab my keys. I go to the grocery store down the service road. It’s crowded. It’s almost Thanksgiving, the crowds are unbearable. It’s like driving when I’m in there; I bump into someone every time I take a step. I am gone for a long time. Over two hours. You don’t call to ask where I am, and I can’t tell if it’s because you’re letting go or seeing if I need some space. I decide it’s neither and load up the back of the car. When I come home, the kitchen is dirty. It's never clean unless I’m home. I throw the dollar bread and the dollar water and the dollar toothpaste on the counter. You are lying on the kitchen floor on your back.  

Get up, I say. You stay on the floor, turning to press your cheek to the cracked tile. I ask what's the matter.

You say you only took Spanish so that you could learn to yell at me in a different language. I stand up and fill the old tub with water so hot it burns my back. I watch the young silverfish follow their mother up the toilet room’s door frame. I hear you mumble in Spanish outside the door. It’s broken Spanish. You haven’t learned. When I come out from my bath, you’re still lying on the floor, but you’ve aged. About ten years or so. Color drained from your face. Naked, I step around you, make myself a cup of tea, and when I go to leave, your fingers brush against my ankle as you whisper, Help me stand up. I don't. I walk to our room, careful not to spill my tea, and change into my nice robe your mother gave me last Christmas. You moan on the kitchen floor, and I hear you lift yourself against the cabinets, trying to stand up. I sit in bed, bills in my lap, my mug making a ring on the bed stand we bought from Goodwill, and wrap my hair in a bandana. This is the life I have taken. The one with the apartment in an odd part of town with a small balcony and nothing to look out to. The one with the addict husband and all the leftover furniture sitting in one corner of the living room. The one with the tubal pregnancy, watching you cry on the car ride home because you found out you couldn’t be a father, not because I nearly bled out; the one when we knew we could never live in the European countryside like you told our English professor and the one where you nearly lost your job because you have a little too much fun at night.
You knock on the bedroom door. You’re tired, and you can barely stand up on your own.
I lead you to the bathroom, run the water, bring your hand under the faucet to see if the temperature is alright. It's too cold, I turn the dial, it's too hot, it's too cold. It's tepid now so you undress, submerge your arms underwater. I pour water into your hair with a mug from the kitchen; you spit water from your mouth. You look at me with wide, bloodshot eyes. Your hair is naturally curly when you leave it to dry, but you usually comb it back.
How was school? I say.

Fine, you respond.

Do you think you can bathe yourself? I ask.  You nod and pour Castile soap on a wash rag.

You get out of the tub. You make yourself a cup of decaf and sit at your computer. You haven’t talked about politics all week. You haven’t updated yourself yet. It’s Thursday, you usually take the time on Mondays. Your new international crisis for the week: Somalia. You watch the videos, and I go to sleep.

In the middle of the night, I wake up to hear your retching over the toilet bowl. I get up and stretch my legs. You are hunched over the toilet, your cheek against the seat and panting. You’re in your briefs, and I can see your spine jutting out. I remove your grandfather’s gold necklace from around your neck and place it on our counter, wet a rag, and press it onto your forehead. I put an elastic headband around your head so your hair doesn’t get in your eyes. I retrieve water and ice and leave some stomach relief medicine on your bedside table. You don’t say a word. You vomit. I fall back asleep.



 

VI.

For Christmas, you give me four drawing pens and a watercolor set. All the card says is I was wrong. I try to give you a hug, and you shrug me off. You’ve taken up smoking since Thanksgiving.

I want a divorce, you say.

We want lots of things, I say.

You’re right.

 

The Lovers

I. Nina’s Unwritten Letter to Sandro

My fingers only say so much. Jaw can only clench so much when I try not to cry. I watch him whisper to himself; you are not yourself, Sandro, darling, you are not as fallible as you think; you are not the worn rags your mother uses to swipe up your sweat. You are much more than a small corpse lying atop your empty dinner plate. Find light and solace in the water cupped in your hands. Find your reflection and tell yourself it’s alright to want to drown. He is not the core of your body. Drink the water from your hands and rest.

II. Sandro Cries to Nina at Dinner
It's my whole heart. It's my organs, my spleen falling out my side, the joints in my fingers that click, the tissues under my nails, the cells making up my eyelids, my blood turning to wood. Everything aches and splits apart… No, no, Nina, you asked me what hurts, and I’m telling you. It’s my appendix, and my pancreas…I love him. I am a piece of an artery, a piece of vein, a piece of muscle. I am a rigid spleen, I am a choked throat. I am the parts, not the person. And he loved me like no one will ever put words to, he loved me and devoted himself to me and now there is nothing. I cannot lust, I am unable to-- only love; I’m a glutton, greed has eaten me, turned me into a feast. 

III. Paolo Whispers to Himself
Nina should yell; Nina should fight, Nina should tell him fuck off, Nina should knock the wind out of him when he tells her she is not enough, Nina should take Sandro by the jaw and tell him she wants to protect him. But Nina doesn't because he does not understand salvation, he does not understand a love for someone other than a lover. He doesn’t love her the way he loved me, he cannot separate all the feelings in his chest, stuff them into little compartments and find a special drawer for Nina. Nina is not to be put into a small box with nothing in it, nothing but her own heart, her organs falling out of her sides, her kidneys as wall decorations, and he sticks his fingers in that little box and ruffles Nina’s hair and Nina says "I love you". And he says nothing and he takes one of those kidneys as his own, he takes what is hers, he uses it and runs away. Nina loves him too dearly. Nina protects him like a brother though he'll never know. He'll never know the ways Nina cares for him, the beating of her heart is simply for him, her gentle touch is for a reason. He'll only see Nina for what Nina makes herself, and Nina doesn't fight hard enough, Nina doesn't beat the wall long enough, Nina doesn't look at herself in the mirror as much; she doesn't hug him so severely tight or pin--
 

IV. Nina Talks Back to Sandro at Dinner
Why are you still so sad? He loved you months ago, a year ago. Why aren’t you happy that he even loved you at all? Click your tongue again, it makes this unbearable to watch. That sound of ripping skin off your lip, sniffling until you’re silent. You try to breathe and catch your breath but you cannot because there's too much in your sinuses and too much in your head; it's the blinking until the redness in your eyes goes away, it's the look on your face when you told me it all. I remember it every hour and the wrinkles in your chin, and your lips uncontrollably quivering. Your face scarlett, shaking and your cheeks soaked with tears. I want Paolo to leave and fall away like dead skin from a snake. Let him just fall away and hear his bones crunch, have your revenge, sit and watch with a fisful of his skin to squeeze. Do not light a match or crush him, don’t lay a finger on him or you’ll feel his flesh with your fingertip. Then you’ll wish nothing but life with him and lying with him on his deathbed as he falls asleep. That is the opposite of your heart, Sandro, you’ll wish peace, and that’s not what you want. 
 

V. Sandro Lies In Bed and Cries

My note to you: Do not light a match, or crush him, Nina says. He’s so thin, don’t touch him. He’s okay without me, he’s found someone else to kiss at night, he’s okay, shh, shh, shh. Nina’s shushing me, just shush, stop crying. Stop crying, Sandro, she says, the halls should be quietShh, shh, shh. Nina’s rubbing my back in deep circles and once her hand starts to cramp, she rubs in straight lines, up and down and up and down. Nina, don’t leave me here, I’m afraid he’ll come here and take out my organs all over again, stuff them in his suitcase, and he’ll run away again. Shh, shh, shh. I haven’t gotten quieter, I’ve gotten louder. She says I’m screaming, I feel very quiet, my head is aching, my brain is pushing onto my skull. She says, I’ve shut the door. You can cry, and I want to release it, I want my lungs to fall out of my chest, maybe my ribs will feel lighter, but I’m quieter. Nina rubs my back in circles, Nina rubs my back with her palm and Nian kisses the nape of my neck and now I’m almost silent except for little whimpers, and she nuzzles her nose under my jaw and moves her arm under mine, holds my hand, and she says he’s not worth it. Love resides on one side of the bed, where love kisses at my neck. I fall silent and turn onto my back, Nina backs away and stares at me, and I stare at the specks in the ceiling. I hold my hand out, she takes it, lays her cheek on my shoulder, falls asleep that way. 

 

VI. Sandro Tries to Drown

I wade. I watch, I stumble, I trip over my own feet, I am gasping, breath does not come easy to me, water does. Water fills my lungs, fills my kidneys and stomach and my swelling throat. I am a snapped vein, everything pouring out my fingertips and my feet. I am a broken artery, I was pumped full of life, and now I am a deflated vessel. I want to lie flat, I want the weeds to wrap around my ankles, please, please, please let me be consumed by the ocean’s cold, let the water take me. As I stumble, don’t allow my hands to find the sand, don’t allow the ground to catch me. I want to fall and fall, I never want the sick feeling in my stomach to fall away, the water is my sky. The water left me hollow, the water left me alone. At the end of the night, I am nearly naked, and it’s cold, and I’m wading through sharp tides, looking for land but hoping it’s not there. My only light is the moon, and so I have none. I hear Nina screaming my name for a while, but then it falls silent, and all I hear is the waves digging its fingers into the calm.

 

The Horrible Tragedy on the Side of the Road by Bayou Odessa, Louisiana

There were two frogs who sat by Bayou Odessa, and they became friends in the best way animals can. The first frog liked to sit atop alligators’ noses when they fell asleep in the sun; he liked the scales under his slimy feet. The two frogs migrated from their home of Bayou Odessa to the ditches of the interstate looking for food everyday. Their side of the bank became too crowded; the second frog’s brothers and sisters made babies day and night, and they were beginning to run out of food. The two frogs fell in love the only way animals can, realizing they are both adequate for mating. 

One day, the two frogs, in love and ready to mate, sat together in the ditch by Bayou Odessa. It was around noon, and a car passing by on the interstate, luggage strapped to the top, stopped. Its tire popped, and the frogs winced at the sound. The family pulled over next to the ditch, and the frogs watched as the father got out of the car to inspect the tire. He sighed and shouted to the mother. They began to work; two young boys, both with white blonde hair and dressed in blue and white striped shirts, ran out of the car. They screamed at each other and wrestled in the grass next to the ditch. After some time, one of the boys complained it was hot, and the mother suggested they stay inside the car. One boy said that was boring, and they both picked flowers. The mother sat in the passenger seat and began to cross stitch, the door wide open. Her husband was taking his time, and her leg was getting sunburned.

              The young boys wandered down to the ditch and spotted the frogs. The first frog gave out a cry, and one of the boys grabbed him, tightened his fingers around his small belly and laughed alongside his brother. They ran up the grass, closer to the road. The boy with no frog went to the hot van and dug through his mother’s purse. She scolded him and gave him a slap on his forearm, to which he reacted with no words, shrugged, and went back to his brother’s side The second frog started to yell with all her might, and the first frog was screaming to his lover as best he could, but the boy’s fat finger covered his nose. His brother opened up a small sewing kit from the purse he grabbed, and they huddled around the first frog. The second frog hopped up the hill and watched behind blades of grass.

              One brother took out some long sewing pins and stuck one between his teeth. The second frog stayed silent. The boy took the pin from between his teeth and forced it into the top of the first frog’s head. It made a terrible squishing sound; the second frog was horrified but watched intently. The boys laughed, and one imitated the noise with spit in his mouth. The first frog had ceased moving, and his mouth remained open. The boys laughed and turned the frog over on his back. They took their mother’s manicure scissors and began to cut the stomach open. One boy pulled the flaps off the body and watched as his lungs puffed out of his body. One boy took the scissors and poked a hole in one lung. It deflated. The second frog looked at the first frog’s face. He wasn’t moving. She was silent. The boys took their mother’s sewing pins and pinned his arms and legs into the dirt. They were playing doctor. The shorter boy was the taller boy’s assistant. He began to deconstruct the frog’s body, and pointed to each organ either laughing or screaming with joy. He took the scissors and poked the first frog’s heart as it was still beating and laughed when the scissors didn’t tear a hole in it. He looked at his brother, and he drove the scissors into the heart of the frog. The second frog, horrified, didn't make a noise. She could not move, and she backed away, knowing she could be next if she made herself known. The boys began to cut at the arteries and pulled away the skin of the frog, leaving a pile of animal organs next to their victim. His lungs were deflated, and his gallbladder, like a small black marble, rolled off the top of the pile of organs.

Their mother called out to them. They turned around with wide eyes and stayed quiet. She walked up behind them and screamed at the horror they had made on the side of the road by Bayou Odessa. She told them not to do that ever again, and one of the twins assured her it was science and safe. She gagged at the site of the hollowed-out frog and told them to come to the car. She told them to leave the sewing kit there, there was a craft store at the next exit she could visit, and it was time to go. She then told them to tell the frog goodbye so they could be on their way. Their father was already back in the front seat, air conditioning running. The boys turned the frog over and took the pins out of his limbs and brain. They laid the pins next to his organs, and they both apologized. One boy snickered. They returned to the car, where their mother wiped their hands off with wipes and told them to buckle themselves in. The car sped off, leaving a sewing kit and a dead frog on the side of the road. The second frog approached the site of her dead mate; frogs cannot cry, and she merely screamed out to the sky and stared at the first frog. She cradled herself between the pile of his intestines and liver and his hollowed mold. She slept there until the sun rose the next morning. She went further down the road, away from Bayou Odessa.

Mississippi Blues

Momma made fresh bread every Saturday morning for Grandpa, and Grandpa sat on his lawn with the little teal radio and a Tom Collins on the porch. Grandma  watched you on that red tricycle she gave you on your sixth birthday. You would sweat in the sweltering Mississippi heat, and Momma would pick you up, drag you inside, plop you atop the granite counter and say Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. And you’d stop, she’d give you a sugar cookie, and put you back out on that porch in the screaming heat, watching Grandma knit you a scarf for when it got cold around these parts.

You watch Grandma knit your new baby some booties while your wife sits down with Momma, your six-month old in her arms. Momma having her third glass of champagne, and you’re on your fourth beer. You watch Grandma as she would look up from that blue rocking chair to the yard’s fence, still in the habit of looking for her husband who wasn’t ever going to be there again. The gate of this house got old and has started to crack and mold, ivy growing up the side of Grandma’s house, but you’re a skinny man, you can’t take down Grandma’s ivy. Your brother’s a big man, taller than your both your parents, and he can just reach and grab that ivy, twist it around his wrist and have it all down before supper.

Momma’s made a pecan pie, or at least she said she did. She started buying baked goods and saying she made them after your father left with the pickup truck and the deed to the house years ago. Your father took your little sister’s playset and told her he was giving it to another family, but your sister wasn’t quite ready to let go of it. This is your fifth beer, and Grandma says not to have another. So does your wife.

You remember when Grandpa would tell the story of how they found their dog Roxie under their house one night during a thunderstorm, and Roxie was so scared she was shittin’ herself right under their feet. Grandpa kept Roxie in the house, and she never went to play outside unless the kids were there. Grandma would knit socks for Roxie and winter hats, but they never did much good.

You remember Grandma at her great-grandchild’s funeral. Your sister had a baby before she turned sixteen, and the baby died two days after she had him. Momma put her grandchild in a box and had him buried in a cemetery nearby. No one said anything. No one really knew him. Your sister cried and cried, said she was sorry she got pregnant so young, and your dad was there and said at least her life wasn’t ruined, this was God’s way correcting her mistake. You went to Mississippi that night and had dinner with Grandma. Grandpa had his breathing tubes in his bed and said he was sorry he was never able to know his great-grandchild. Grandma made Shepherd's pie, and you ate it at the foot of Grandpa’s bed. You watched Gunsmoke.

Your sister has never gotten over watching her baby die, and she doesn’t talk much at family functions. Your brother’s never kissed anyone before. All Momma has left is the little wilting garden behind her laundry room and a cracked vase her great-grandmother gave her. You are the only one that’s not alone, and your family knows it. They tell you everyday. When you go to visit Grandma in Mississippi, she tells you to hold onto your wife and baby. Your younger sister tells you you’re lucky to have a child and to take care. Your brother hasn’t said more than fifty words to you over the past year. You don’t miss him, because you never knew him, and he’s at college, learning how atoms work while throwing around a football. You’re out of college.Your wife told you she was never going to give up a career for a baby, but she got pregnant three months after saying that. She’s still in school, and you dropped out to raise your little girl. You named her after your sister, and she has your father’s eyes. Your father’s never seen her. Your grandfather’s never seen her either.

Your mother’s on her fourth glass of champagne. You’re on your first glass of water. Your wife brings the baby inside to nap and cool down. The sun is starting to set. Grandma ties the ends of the booties and hands them to you. You ask your sister to put them on your daughter. Your wife comes outside and kisses the top of your hair and says you need to shower. Your brother brings out the ladder to take down Grandma’s ivy, and he’s silent. He rips the vines down and bunches them into a ball. Momma brings out a chocolate and lemon doberge cake. Grandma’s eighty-eighth birthday. You all sing, your brother from the ladder. Grandma has your sister blow out her candles. You end the song.

To not so many more, Grandma says.

 

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Woman of Strength

 

I have never met a strong woman

who has never been broken.

She had to learn

how to pick herself up and carry on.

She had to learn

how to depend on herself for happiness.

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