Barbara Conrad: Poetry: May 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am so Southern I capitalize it. I am so Southern, every Sunday my dad would drive us out to the country to see the old home place where he had a pet pig and ate turnips on the way home from school. I am so Southern I learned to dance with a doorknob when I was thirteen. When I moved to Maryland once for two years, people followed me in the grocery store to hear my accent. I’m so Southern, even a dream of living elsewhere is an out-of-body experience. I’m so Southern, I follow directions to a T — so am sending you only one poem. I’m so Southern — well, read my poem to find out!

Chicken Wire

Of all the stories they’d tell
from my early childhood — random bowl
of mashed potatoes I dumped on my head
in a diner, the backyard brushfire
my dad teased me to pee out before
grabbing me back — the tale I heard most
was the one about the chicken wire
they fastened over my crib at night.
Funny narrative, it always got a laugh.

Sometimes I’d try to picture
that tiny apartment on First Street,
my bedroom a cubby next to theirs,
their grown-up chatter floating
up the stairs while I slept.

In the back yard was a pet rabbit named
Walter, they told me, caged in a pen next
to my mother’s rows of corn and beans.
Maybe that’s where they got
the extra chicken wire.
I never remembered Walter.

What I’m trying to say is this — I became
a dutiful child. Brought home A’s. Cleaned
my room without being told.
Rarely argued with my father, though
I wish I had peed out that brushfire.

I never asked them why they did it,
why they fixed chicken wire over my crib.
And what does it really matter now,
their intention so long ago —
To shield me from falling out?
Or bind me from jumping free?