Christian Collins CC
Wondering What Dies
in red-dirt Mississippi where she’s been
these fourteen years.
My body ages toward hers
Came from hers.
Every seven years, I am new cells new skin
a supple snake in jeans and hennaed hair.
Am I of her body still
Her womb her breasts her eyes her hands her dreams her fears
All are underground
Do they grow in me undead eternal or am I renewed
Reborn twice over now.
Mama’s ghost has beautiful green eyes
So unlike mine.
Creaky knees dry skin brittle
Nails, these we share.
I forgive her now so many things
Has her mother’s heart absolved
me, the only daughter of a daughter of a daughter
whose smile was crooked like mine
whose nose lives in the middle of my face
whose bones slept before I was born.
Southern Gothic #1
Searching for flowers in Morton, Mississippi, where my mother was born and now lies between her grandmother Mary Elizabeth and her big sister Babe whose real name was Ruby Odessa. Aunt Babe had the best summer garden, butter beans and tomatoes and sweet corn, greens that she cleaned in the Maytag, even slimy fuzzy okra pods for gumbo. Her husband grabbed my fifteen-year-old breasts and told me The Bible Says Love Everyone. But Aunt Babe never knew that, and neither did Mama. This half-dead little town has no florist or wildflowers so I buy plastic posies at a dingy Five and Dime.
Morton Cemetery has all that one would expect. Giant live oaks with broad branches that touch the ground, their twisted arms full of hanging moss and wisteria. Rusted wrought iron. Cedar trees and honeysuckle. Cicada hum, mockingbirds. Grey squirrels and tombstones. Polished new tombstones with smiling photos. Giant double markers the size of queen-size headboards. Flat slabs of concrete where kids sit and drink at night. Rows of low headstones dropped in the grass like hardback books. Little flags for the war dead, stone angels for children lost to swamp fevers and car wrecks. In the back, the ancient stones with quaint names eroded, broken falling in on themselves, the forgotten ones whose last mourner passed long ago.
This cemetery also has thick humid air, a dome of oppression and sweat. An old man on a faraway lawnmower, rattling like a marble in a tin can. And those fire ants that will haunt me. Red dirt mounds that swarm when you kick them, nasty and invasive and toxic. There’s a mound by Mama’s headstone, Mother Sister Musician. I’m angry and sad and I fear that they tunnel into the red clay where Mama lies in her blue dress, hands folded. She never liked to be alone, and I’ve left her here with these red ants in red dirt and this dying town and these blue plastic flowers.
I saw Morton once on the national news, an ICE raid at the chicken processing plant. Confused crying children whose mothers had been taken. The chicken plant stands where my mother was born, in place of the house where she played and cried, where her mother told her stories. Mama cried there again when I was about seven when we searched to find it gone and replaced with such insult. I remember her sobbing in the front seat of the Chevrolet, smelling the chicken shit and feathers. Daddy sat there not reaching out, leaving her alone with her grief. I sat in the back.
From where I sit now I see so much decay. Smell the stench from the chickens and the fetid brown creeks. Infer forsaken metal carcasses under kudzu. All that cliched Southern stuff. Old places old rules Old Guard old manners, rebel delusions violence and sweet tea and old men and old women and carved lines forming the name of my mother who moved away but whose body came back to this clay-dirt and soupy air that clings to my already-damp flesh.
Things That Will Remain Unsaid
The day you told us you were leaving we lined up on the couch
and your Chevrolet was packed and Mama tried to give you dishes
and I walked back down the short hall to my room
and you followed me and held me and told me you were sorry
and I stood there arms dead by my side while a tire gauge
pressed into my eye from your shirt pocket (funny
the things I remember) you were crying and I knew
you loved me and I also knew you weren’t coming back
despite what Mama said.
Goodbye to pipe smoke and cold air in corduroy
to kite flights and tinker toys goodbye
to that one time you combed the tangles from my hair
and the afternoon you ran in so fast to kill that red wasp and
morning rides to school and swimming lessons and
dividing by zero and To my only little girl in my autograph book.
Here are some things I’ll never say to you:
You hurt me when
you did not defend me when you did not take my side
let me take the blame see myself the slut
When you hung up the phone and would not stay and fight
When you had another daughter when you left my mother.
I know this is not rational, or fair, two things you taught me.
And I know you were young and you were trying
to find your life but as your eldest child, a quiet one like you, reticent
like you and good at hiding, I was young and trying to find my life
and you were supposed to help me, a little more than you did.
I told you some things once but not the worst things
I spare you that because you’re not as strong as me.
I wonder still at girls at ease with fathers.
Wren Donovan’s writing appears or is upcoming in The Dillydoun Review, Cauldron Anthology, Hecate Magazine, Survivor Lit, Tattie Zine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She studied literature, Classics, folklore, and psychology. Wren reads Tarot, talks to cats, and lives in Tennessee. She lurks on twitter @WrenDonovan. she/her
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