Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have a distinct memory of sitting in a circle of lawn chairs in the middle of Iowa, on a day so humid you think something’s going to happen. I must have been about nine years old. I must have been wearing pants. On my right I see the forearm of an elderly man in a white button down shirt, he’s lifting a female infant above his head and talking to her in the third person, telling her she’s perfect, and innocent. I remember remembering that he was the one my mother called a racist bastard. I remember thinking at least he’s nice to that baby. Six years later, when I kissed the black boy on the church steps, I remembered the racist man again, and I wondered what color my baby would be someday, and I wondered if any baby of mine could ever make it through Iowa. On my left I see my mother; smoking, ignoring the racist bastard, and the innocent baby. Directly in front of me I see a pair of bare feet, and the pair of bare feet is talking, agreeing with the other voices that Jessica should take a ride on Festus, Jessica is the perfect size for Festus. Then I remember complete darkness; root canal darkness. Then I’m standing on an upside down bucket while the bare foot voice is whistling through her fingers and shouting things like baby, and sweetie, and honey pie, and sugar snap pea, and I’m thinking why don’t they call Festus; Festus. Festus is a mule. A grey mule just my size. He was dying twenty years ago, so I can only imagine he must surely now be dead and gone, burned and scattered over the bigoted daffodils and melting juleps. I rode that dying mule into the ground, I was wearing pants and plastic sandals. He was naked accept for something around his neck, a red string, or a pink shoe lace. The bare foot voice abandoned the left side of Festus and returned to her lawn chair. I was alone with my grey mule, and my country, and the soft places of my body; I was as independent as a white turtle. I liked the weeds of Iowa, I liked that Festus never took me out of ear shot, the babies were louder than the crickets all night. He was like a dog, or a father. Except much different, because his spine was cutting me in half and I liked it. When he finally got tired he just sat down, and waited for me to slide down his spine like frosting out of a plastic bag, he disappeared into the weeds, I taught myself how to walk again. The voices laughed. I felt something in my cotton underpants. Something binding, like chewing gum, or rubber cement. I excused myself to the out house. And because my mother had boyfriends instead of husbands, I knew all about hymens and exactly what was going on. No big deal. I cleaned my thighs with the back of my left hand. I smiled. I returned to the circle and helped myself to a hot dog. I am wild, and slow, a Mona Lisa in a lawn chair. Rest in peace grey mule.


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