Andy Betz : Poetry (Jan 2019)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Missouri and now live (very, very) close to Atlanta. With the exception of college, I have spent my entire life in the South.

Mud

An assassin’s doctor
Ancient brick starter material
Sling to insult
Facial mask soothing
Eye socket counterpart during champagne toasting
Ghost pottery wheel kiss and embrace
Ankle deep gauge of mild trouble
Knee deep gauge of more-than-mild trouble
Colloquial term for plaster
Standard for water clarity
Water standard for blues recording
Toe squishing friend

Pocket Watch Kid

Don’t ask me why
I just know
I’ve seen it before
It just shows

Nobody loves me
Very few care
Nobody wants me
But everyone stares

I come when summoned
I’m on display
I better be accurate
On every day

I get one chance
To prove my worth
I’m always terrified
Ever since birth

I’m a pocket watch kid
Who need never be
Put away when finished
Wanted infrequently

la fine

A Fair face with sharp eyes has a vision
Beholden with sight so blessed and so cursed
Bound to truth that no lie may pass her lips
One of three diviners knitted by blood
Her mother grounded in the distant past
Bygone is never goneby in her mind
Fair Face exists in time yet to unfold
Accuracy with details yet to pass
Her daughter, womb encased, knowledge of lies
Recognizing those who will use such tongue
Triangle inheritance of true sight
Genetically shared by this trio
Triangle inheritance of cursed sight
Where daughter will be the last so endowed

Dan Leach : My Dad vs. Your Dad (fiction) Jan. 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I once moved to Nebraska. This after 28 years of legitimate southern living in upstate South Carolina. For two cold hard Midwestern years, I shivered inside a corn farmer’s coat and dreamt of the day I’d come back South. Praise God: I don’t need to dream anymore.

My Dad vs Your Dad

I hear you about the taekwondo and the bench press and the time spent in the Marines. Your dad sounds impressive. But let’s look at the facts on this.

Fact number one: that football game out in the sticks, when we sat on the wrong side, and all the parents there came drunk and got loud and started yelling racial slurs at the ref. My brother, who played wide receiver, had just turned seven. I might’ve been eight. And I might’ve felt something like a bug-getting-stepped-on to hear those people, who looked just like adults, say what they were saying. 

“These people,” my dad said and not in a whisper. “They’re cowards, son. Mental dwarves.”

The two men who heard him looked like slightly less furry versions of what I’d been reading about in Monsters of North America. I’d never seen such a convergence of scabs and tattoos. And when I saw the light blue hate of their eyes, I wanted to run.

These men came over and, right there in front of my mother, right there in front of my German immigrant grandparents, right there in front of Mr. Ritterbush, our orthodontist, who had also sat on the wrong side, they demanded my dad repeat what he had said. 

“If you two shitheads want to know what I said,” my dad replied, standing up and sliding his Clemson ring off his finger. “Why don’t we go down to the parking lot and continue this conversation?”

*

Fact number two: that time a couple years later, when it snowed in Carolina, and none of the kids our neighborhood knew what to do with it. How we started off harmless: snowmen and sleds and forts you could crawl in. How, when harmless took on a too-Disney kind of texture, we got creative and started chucking snowballs at cars. Like everything from that time, it was heaven, until it was not. Until it was the hell where a man with a mustache and yellow teeth and large, hairy forearms stops his car and gets out. We thought he would just curse at us then get back in his car and drive off. We were wrong. 

He grabbed my brother in a way that made my stomach hurt. And when my heart said to fight, I ran. I hid behind a dogwood tree and watched him carry my brother, who was kicking, all the way to our house. He still had Matt by the wrist when he knocked on our door. 

My dad came out onto the porch and with absolutely no context, not a single detail about what had happened, he said, “Take your filthy hands off my son.” 

The man with the mustache and the yellow teeth, who by then was trembling and looked as if he were about to start crying, said, “Do you know what your son just did to my car?”

And my dad, still not knowing whether we had struck this innocent man’s vehicle with a snowball or a claw-hammer, moved within inches of this stranger’s face and growled through his teeth, “If you don’t take your hands off my son right now–.” 

He never finished the thought. He didn’t have to. The look on my father’s face at that moment was not human. It was the look of a hurricane rearing back in the sky. It was the look of a tsunami gathering itself over a sleeping city. There was both love and death in that look.

The man let go of Matt. His lip, the one supporting the mustache, quivered. And tears, actual tears, came down his face. And when my dad said, “Leave!” he did, slipping on an ice patch as he ran back to his car.

*

Third and final fact: the Christmas, which was only last Christmas, when my dad climbed on the second story roof to hang a string of lights and afterwards mentioned a dull tingling pain in his shoulders and left arm. He said he pinched a nerve and went to his room to lay down. And when, in his bedroom, the left anterior artery closed up completely, and his heart reached out for blood that was not there, and his body, that old tank, began shutting itself down, even then he didn’t concede the point. 

He was nearly dead when my mother found him. And as she drove him to hospital, he told her to turn around. And as the doctors ran tests, he insisted he be released. 

“I’m telling you,” he said. “It’s just a pinched nerve.” 

He wanted to be left alone. And when they left him alone, he died. He was medically, officially dead for two full minutes before a male nurse exploded into the room and used his fists to punch life back into my dad’s chest.

My dad looked confused after surgery. Our first words, after “I love you” were “You scared us.” We told him how scared we were at the idea of losing him.

He looked up at us from the hospital bed. And with a hand shot-through with tubes and IVs he swatted Death away like you would a persistent gnat and said, “Calm down. It was just a pinched nerve.” 

*

About what you said about my dad being average, even forgettable, it’s true. He was both. He never fought in a war or came home some kind of hero with medals to prove it. He never started a company or discovered a cure, never posed for a picture that would run in a paper beneath words like “Local Hero” or “Pillar of Community.” By any normal measure, he was not what you would call a great man. But there he was, average and forgettable and ours, punching holes through all the ugliness this world could muster. 

Norvin Dickerson : Three Poems Jan. 2019

SOUTHERN LEGITIMACY STATEMENT I was conceived on a houseboat on the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina and was born in Monroe, North Carolina first year of the Baby Boomers. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. My kin, Irish immigrants to North and South Carolina, fought for the Confederacy. I drive miles out of my way to eat Lexington Barbeque, and belong to a band of pirates and sailors, Brothers of the Coast, located in Savannah, Georgia. I live in the town of Black Mountain in western North Carolina.

NO NAME HURRICANE
There are (a)bsolutely no
buzzards. The wind killed
all the buzzards.
Ernest Hemingway

You can argue about which was the worst
hurricane. The one that hit the Keys
on Labor Day 1935 was given no name.
It struck above No Name Key,
at the Matecumbe Keys, which means kill men.
The hurricane killed over 400 people, most of them
World War I veterans building a highway
to Key West, men Harry Hopkins, FDR’s lieutenant,
wanted to get out of their Hooverville
box houses in the nation’s capital, men
who were picketing for a war bonus,
aging in hitched up trousers, drinking beer,
eating starch.

Living in a labor camp
on government time
sweating canteen beer
heat taking my breath away
hiding in mangroves
eating Vienna sausages

All for a few dollars
a day to spread crushed
limestone on a roadbed
cross channel
reached down and picked out
a Florida lobster
to go with my beer
never get out of here
drinking beer and drawing
bad cards bitch
in the hole

A train scheduled to come
from Miami to get us
how far do our homemade
barometers have to fall
before the train arrives

High winds and waves slapped
our tents and shacks flat
I held onto railroad ties
until they buckled
surges washed
my ears clean
sand blasted my eyeballs

I nested
in a mangrove
hugged roots dodged railroad ties
splinters sharp as a horse needle

The horizon disappeared
air still as the stars
but a big wave
came again

At daylight I saw bloated
bodies around me
stuck in the mangroves
their clothes blown off
sand crabs plucked eyeballs
ate toes

No buzzards to let out the gas
storm killed them too

I waded back to camp
on the railroad bed
bodies were stacked
some with big timbers
through their shoulders
or a forehead like Frankenstein’s

The National Guard ran me off
at gunpoint I heard they burned
bodies of some veterans
and didn’t know who they were –
no names like the hurricane
that killed them

They had survived
No Mans Land in France
20 years later they’re buried
in a common grave at a place called
Homestead

Flying Nuns (1963)

I had attended Andover, a Massachusetts prep school for two years when
my father persuaded my sister to attend a girls school in the same town.
My parents moved to Andover, bought a house on a cul-de-sac off School
Street. My father met one couple when he pulled a dog off their son.
The mother, Elliott Richardson’s sister. Dad never met the Gillette
heiress next door, but he was on a first name basis with her yardman,
who charged the yard every time a leaf fell.

The nuns in the convent at the end of the street interested Dad the most.
He caught Sister Mary Nan outside and invited the nuns to visit 49 School Street, a nondescript brick rancher. It had a good kitchen where Dad stuffed lobster, baked cod and clams oreganata. The Sisters politely declined, said they weren’t allowed to enter private homes. My father was prepared to get a Papal dispensation when the local Cardinal let them come over. Dad was an oddity to them, a Southerner and a hero after rescuing the neighbor boy. Mom intrigued them because she favored Natalie Wood.

Dad prepared finger sandwiches and tea, not exactly his specialty, and put
a decanter of sherry nearby. (He knew a pitcher of martinis was out
of the question.) The next time Dad invited them over he played his new
cord organ. When he played Sweet Georgia Brown too slowly, my sister chimed Pick up the beat, Dad. He replied God damn it, I’m playing as fast as I can. The Sisters must have been in a forgiving mood. Dad pushed his luck, invited them to fly in his company’s King Air over Andover and the convent. My grandmother, Annie, persuaded them to go. She was the stewardess on the two flights it took to haul all 12 nuns in wimples to the heavens above.

ISABEL ( Monroe, N.C. 1948)

Where’s my boy?
Never been to her house before.
Big kind Isabel would catch
me in her skirts, sweep
harm away. She lived
next to the cemetery
behind the school.
Early fall, lazy light.
Is that my boy?
I cleared the porch and den
weaving between people.
No strong playful Isabel
to run headlong into.
She seemed shrunken
propped up in bed.
There you are child.
Talk floated above me.
She ain’t recognized nobody
but him for weeks.

Karen Tardiff: Down By The River (Fiction) Jan 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement:  Born in Dallas and raised in the Piney Woods of East Texas, I now reside on the coast of South Texas. My family traces their roots all the way to the founding of a county in Texas. Before that they came from the Duck River in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky; prior to that was Virginia. I believe we steadfastly refuse to go back any further lest we associate ourselves with those of a more questionable Northern lineage. If that isn’t Southern enough, there is also my insistence on adding “y” to the end of nouns and forcing them to be adjectives.

Down By The River

Wrigley reveled in the freedom of youth. The keening of locusts was the accompaniment to the song of joy he whistled as he walked to the river. Even his little brother’s presence couldn’t mar this day.

“Wrigley! Race me!” pleaded Buford, kicking up dust as he ran circles around his older brother.

“I ain’t racing nowhere. I’m gonna enjoy ever second of today. ‘Sides, it might unwriggle my wriggle worms,” teased Wrigley. As if to prove his point he slowed his pace slightly and held the Ball jar extra cautiously. His cane pole was slung over his shoulder and his overalls had an extra hook on the front pocket square.

“No, sir, Ford,” he continued. “Today is a day for savoring.”

His words mollified Buford, but only slightly. The tow-headed boy sprinted ahead and ran back a few times, racing against himself. The familiar smell of lush green trees, dirty water, and summer heat let the boys know they were close. A smile cracked even wider on both faces. They looked at each other, forgot about the wriggling worms, and started running.

“Boy, she’s flowing good today!” exclaimed Wrigley.

“Might bring some of them salmon down from Alaska!’ Buford was already dreaming of the big long silver fish when he was interrupted by Wrigley’s laughter.

“Salmon? Now how you reckon salmon’s gonna get in our river?”

“Well Miz Crockett said all the rivers come down South, so I figured the fish would come down here with the water.”

Buford’s innocent face and sincere words stopped Wrigley from correcting him. “C’mon then. Help me get a worm on this hook and let’s catch us some salmons.”

The fishing went like it always did: a couple crappie too small to eat, a miss on a largemouth. The proverbial One That Got Away. The song of the locusts began to change from their daytime to the evening song. The cloudless sky greyed slightly. The cloth-wrapped jerky and ripe tomatoes has long since been devoured. All signs it was time to head home. Splashing in the river and heat had worn the race out of Buford and Wrigley alike.

“I hope Ma cooked something, cuz you’re a lousy fisherman, Wrigley.”

“Look, Ford, it’s not my fault. We just gotta get better worms.”

“Or a better hook.”

The teasing tapered off as both boys caught a whiff of something familiar in the air. In their own banter they failed to notice the quiet which descended, but it was deafening now. The sound of breaking glass followed them from the spot where the dropped Ball jar and pole lay, now shattered and discarded. Their bare feet slapped against the hard dirt path; dirt packed from weekly trips to the river from their log cabin. The road now leading to where the cabin once stood.

“Ma! Ma! Pa! Ma!”

The words in chorus, in unison, in disarray, the words piercing the smoke rising from the home they left that morning. Frantically running around the smoldering logs, Wrigley became aware of a slight mewling coming from the middle of it all.

“Ford, you stay there!” he commanded. “Just stay put!  You hear me?”

His feet burning, his eyes watering, Wrigley found the arrow-pierced body of his mother. He didn’t have time to cry as he pushed her over to collect his baby sister. Hugging her to his chest, he ran across to the backside of the house, not even feeling the hot embers scalding his soles. There lay his father, rifle in hand, motionless. Wrigley grabbed the hot metal.

“C’mon, Ford. Ford! FORD!”

Awakened from his shock, Buford ran around the house to what remained of his family. He tried to ask Wrigley a question, but the words wouldn’t come. Wrigley understood. He passed Abigail to his brother, checked the rifle over, and led them all into the woods.

Stephen Hundley : Wake Up (Fiction) Jan 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Stephen Hundley was raised on the Lincoln River, south of Savannah, Georgia. When the weather was right, you might have found him in a clawfoot tub on the porch. When the game warden wasn’t around, you might have found an alligator in the tub too. Stephen’s love for wildlife has inspired writing that mozies from peacocks to herons to mudfish to the dogs living in the woods behind the E-Z Fill. He has been bitten by most things that crawl, swim, or amble, but he doesn’t often bite back.

Wake Up

Hold the body, he says, and I press my palms where the ribs spring just a hair, the whole red thing swinging on the gamble. When my father cuts the GI track, all that makes a deer a deer falls away. Then there’s the rest of the fur to be stripped back, with the wet skin tight in my fist and heaving until my fingers rip through. I’ll need to cut a new grip to get those brown sugar folds down around her ears.

Takes a hacksaw, if you’re tool-poor. And tonight we are. But there’s pride in how the knife slides along the spine to free the muscles there, while the others watch and their fathers watch and my father groans to stretch a back long busted in the spark yards. He offers advice while I fish the cuts of meat into a sink where the silver-skin will be shorn away. It’s only me he asks to make those cuts.

In the morning, we see his truck in the driveway. He’s got one foot out of the driver’s side, so I guess he tried. 

Leave him, my mother says. Eat.

I leave the house barefoot, the rocks in the driveway sharpening their knives. I tug on my father’s hands. Reach over and turn off the key. I can feel the heat from the kitchen as mother, daughter, sister, friend eat in silence. 

We come up the stairs, sliding along the wall, and me wondering what he’s been thinking in the dark, limping the truck through the woods and seeing the house there and us inside of it sleeping and deciding to stay out with the radio playing low. Why open the door? Was that to get out or just let a breeze whisper in? 

What were you doing? I ask. 

Sleeping, he says. 

Then we stop a while to breathe.  

At the table there are hotcakes on one plate, cold fried venison on another. He sits in an easy chair and I think of him with blood on his hands asking me to heave that nanner-headed doe onto the hooks and hang her high. Where is that man? Which one is this? Living on the highway and following you home. Fogging your eyes. Who has you running all night with the door cracked and your guts hanging out. It’s your boy here, so just tell me, who?