Claire Massey : Flash Fiction : Nov 2020

SOUTHERN LEGITIMACY STATEMENT: Mississippi birthed me skinny, Louisiana fattened me up, Georgia married me off, Tennessee worked me like a borrowed mule and Florida retired me. My favorite quote is from Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. ” The South is a place. East, west, and north are nothing but directions.”

Maverick at Open Mic

We all knew it was coming. The crone who sits on the front row signed up to read. I forget her last name, Dorothy or Dorthea something, for God’s sake, don’t call her Dot. Taught lit at nowhere community college about a hundred years ago. Was Poet Laureate in some backwater south of the MD line-is it Mobile? I’m talking the way back machine. Not that I’m a spring chicken. Feeling a bit like a relic this evening. I mean, I’ve got my MFA, of course, but that was years ago and after hearing the winners read, I wonder if my ear has atrophied.

The woman riffles in a purse the size of the Grand Canyon, pulls out an accordion folder. No squinting at cell phones for her. Kyle Roderick, head of the department, shoots his not well veiled, oh no glance at Megan Whatley, grad student girl poet of the quarter, upon whom he has just bestowed a 9” by 12” first place certificate, suitable for framing. She volleys back with the compressed lip expression, corners turned up, however, making it hard to tell if she projects a martyr’s suffering or frank disgust. 

In the while that it takes for the ex-laureate to hobble to the podium, I think about Megan’s poem. It had hung itself on too many mirrors left dangling at dangerous angles. There were funhouse mirrors, rear view mirrors, shattered mirrors on locked closet doors, lovers in fractured view above a heaving bed. I’m sifting debris of exploding mirrors, not sure what image she meant to reflect, not certain what splintered, broke into shards and slivers.

The work-study assistant’s poem was not as weighty. It garnered a lesser nod, honorable mention. Roderick has a rep for playing to the ladies and I hear this guy’s stuck teaching core skills development.  His poem was about a homeless man’s dog dying or maybe the dog was already dead. I’ll puzzle out the sequence when I read it at home. There was angst. Subtle, though. Sentimentalists don’t score diplomas. 

We steel ourselves for Don’t Call Me Dot’s contribution, turns out it’s mercifully short. After Roderick thanks everyone for coming, she stands alone at the wine table. Somebody’s got to talk to her, nobody is. She remembers an essay I wrote, calls it contemplative, for a young man. Before they root in her sinkhole purse, I ask for a copy of the poem she read.

I’ve scanned it below. Mainly for old friends from the U who don’t write anymore. Those who no longer listen. 

I like a plainspoken poem.

I’m an old-school gal
with a lot behind me. 

Time is short. And breath.
Shall I hold it minutes
for an aha second? 
Shall I solve a Rubik’s Cube of words,
permeate layers of subterfuge, 
hunt metaphors lost in obscurity, 
disinter the telling line,
diagram to determine
where x intercepts y?

Shall I ponder ostentatious lipograms
off their mark because
bull’s-eye words were banned?

I’m done with equations required
to derive

truth from guile,
connotations from denotations,
semantics from syntax, 
keynotes from noise.

I know you have something to say.

For the length 
and the breadth
of just one poem,
forget about credits in your bio.

Sock it to me.

I’m listening. 

So I guess, in my backhanded, what the hell, don’t look at me way, I’ve passed on what she had to say. They skipped her when they videoed the readers but picture this: A gnome on tiptoe strains to reach the microphone. Projects guts when she does.  No article forthcoming on her but here’s my lead: Old lady poster child for dead poets tells Roderick and his courtiers to sock it to her. Admit it, there’s a nerve. Think she’ll get any takers?