Terri Kirby Erickson: Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

When some of the phrases you remember hearing in your childhood are: “I swannee,” “Bless your heart,” and “Law have mercy,” you were probably brought up in the South. So, I reckon I’m Southern enough to suit The Mule!

At the Waffle House

Sunday mornings at the Waffle House are a sight to see,
what with pancakes flying around the room like Frisbees,
the floor so sticky with syrup, people get stuck sometimes,
so every waitress keeps a butter knife in her pocket

to pry the patrons loose.  And if it’s eggs you’re looking
for, you’ve come to the right place.  They’ve got omelets,
of course, and anything edible you want to put in one, if they
can find it in the freezer.  Or you can have your eggs boiled,

poached, sunny-side-up, over-easy, in-a-nest or scrambled.
Some eggs, however, defy description, which is when
a customer says something like, Don’t make my egg too
hard.  Leave it kindly runny, but not too runny, or the dad-

blame thing might get away from me! which always puts
the cook in a fine mood.  But when it comes to the Waffle
House specialty, the human mind can hardly wrap itself
around so many mouth-watering choices.  To name a few,

there’s Belgian waffles or regular; buckwheat or buttermilk;
plain, banana, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, boysenberry,
chocolate chip and pumpkin; with powdered sugar or without;
and you can add whipped cream if you’re feeling frisky.

If you want meat on the side, pork is generally the way to go,
but turkey’s popular, too, particularly if your cholesterol number
would make a better bowling score.  As for beverages, there
are buckets of milk; orange, tomato and grapefruit juice;

and so much coffee, just sniffing the air will make your heart
beat like a piston, prompting most people to eat their breakfast
pronto, making way for the next group before you can say
hash browns. And speaking of groups, there are all sorts

of folks who frequent the Waffle House on Sunday mornings.
First of all, you’ll find kids of every shape, size, age,
and temperament, including the blessedly well-behaved
and plum-out-of-control, which means they’re screaming,

fighting, spraying their parents with tomato ketchup and making
any person within earshot, which is usually the whole building,
as miserable as possible.  And the adults come in variety
packs, too, including married couples who barely say

two words to each other; teenagers who can’t stop talking
long enough to eat; bikers covered in tattoos and so many
metal piercings they jingle when they walk; suntanned
retirees; golfers who stopped by on their way to teeing off;

and people so hung over from Saturday night, they sit at the
counter, where they feel most comfortable, anyway, ordering
nothing but gallons of black coffee.  And the waitresses are
mostly good-hearted souls unless you forget to mind your

manners, in which case it’s not their fault if your plate slips
from the tray and lands in your lap.  Come lunchtime, however,
the crowd changes over to church-goers and late-risers, gradually
thinning out to nothing around mid-afternoon, when every

waitress, cook and dishwashers’ dogs are barking up a storm
and every customer who’s eaten at the Waffle House is either at
home in a carb-induced coma, or bouncing off the walls someplace,
so full of sugar and caffeine, they’ll probably never sit down again.


Down South

Crossing the state line, even the car shakes itself
like a dog will after a quick stretch before curling
its body in front of a fire.  It’s that good.  You see,
we’ve been gone for weeks and we’re ready to toss
some ain’ts and it don’ts into the conversation
and quit trying to talk like a couple of newscasters
so people can understand what we’re saying.
Down South we might squeeze our words out slow
but we count people all the way to third and fourth
cousins as close family for whom we’d do almost
anything legal and we’re kind to strangers, too,
if they seem like decent folks.  Already there’s
an old man waving at us from the side of the road
like we’re his own children dropping by for a visit
only we’re not ready to stop yet.  We’ve got a few
miles left to jettison what we don’t need anymore,
like that hurry-up-and-get-there walk and that sort
of sideways glance that says I don’t really see you
when people pass each other on the street.  Oh
I say, when we finally pull into the driveway
of our little ranch house, which isn’t much but suits
the two of us just fine with its porch swing and pink
camellia bush that’s taken over the yard—somebody’s
stacked the newspapers beside the door and mowed
the lawn..
.  And right then and there our stiff joints
and muscles begin to loosen and unwind so fast it
seems like our limbs might turn to molasses before
we can jump out of the car, we’re so glad to be home.



My mother’s black baby doll wore a gingham dress.
Her head was covered in pigtails, her brown feet
bare.  Back then, you could hardly find
such a thing among the millions

of lily-white dolls with blonde curls and blue eyes,
babies that cried, “Mama!” when you turned them

over.  But the black doll was silent, called for nobody—
was given to her by Agnes, who did the washing up,

the ironing, who watched over her while her parents
were at work.  If my mother had been a doll,

she would have said, “Agnes!” when you turned
her over, since Agnes was the one who answered—
the woman who dried her tears, whose arms
were like a cradle, rocking.


Making Cornbread

“There’s more to it than you think,” the old woman
said, sitting on the steps of a house with a roof
that sagged in the center, like a worn-out mattress.
“Two cups of Tenda-Bake self-rising corn meal
is best, but don’t get the yellow; get the white.  One
and a fourth cups of milk ought to be about right;
one egg you need to beat a little bit before you add
it to the batter; and a fourth of a cup of oil.  Oh, you
can use any kind of vegetable oil and even shortening,
if you want to.  I use Wesson, but it’s up to you.
Have you got all that?” she said, peering over the rims
of her glasses, her hair sticking up like a hen’s comb
in the middle of her head.  She never worried about
what people thought of her looks, anyway, which she
claims to have lost when a tornado took her barn in ’89.
“Aged me ten years in a split second,” she said, “and
I ain’t cared since then, to waste my time with mirrors.”
She went on to say, “You mix all them ingredients,
but don’t stir too much or your batter won’t rise.
And you’ve got to have the right skillet.  If you don’t
use a cast-iron skillet, you might as well forget the whole
thing.  And heat it in the oven first, before you pour
the batter in.  Be careful, though.  You can get a right
smart burn if you don’t watch out.  Keep them oven
mitts handy!” she said, cackling like a witch flying
across the moon.  “You set the heat at 400 degrees,
by the way, and don’t open the oven door until your
cornbread’s been cooking for at least 25 minutes if you
don’t want it coming out flat as griddle-cakes.”  Dabbing
her nose with a wadded-up Kleenex, she leaned in close
and said, “Don’t forget, when you’re making cornbread
or anything else, to say a prayer.  It don’t have to be
much, but pray loud enough so the Lord can hear you
talking.  He gets mighty lonesome up there when folks
forget to say hello.  Go ahead and laugh, but mark
my words, there’s nothing like prayed-over cornbread.
It rises like souls on their way to heaven, and melts
in your mouth like butter, which, of course, you ought
to slather on top, once you put a piece on your plate.
Oh, and if you like your cornbread sweet, add a pinch
of sugar to the batter, which never hurt anybody as far as
I can tell, and some people’s dispositions are improved by it.”