Jane Sasser :: Why She Poisoned Him; Ode to Barn Clothes; Bargains ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I attended high school in a small community in North Carolina where our track team consisted of six members, and my friend and I had to convince the coach to let us girls on the team. We all rode to track meets in his red and black Pontiac LeMans, Coach and the sprinters in the front, and the shot putters with us on their laps in the back, listening to country music with the windows down.

Why She Poisoned Him

for my great-great-grandmother, who allegedly tried to poison my great-great-grandfather

Because she was a Cherokee,
blood in her veins so wild
it boiled, thirty years of marriage
and eight children be damned.
She slipped to the hardware store,
purchased strychnine with cash,
dosed his coffee, dreamed
of fleeing free into woods,
melting into sweet gum and oak.

Because he was a nasty old man,
couldn’t be bothered to take
a bath, spat tobacco juice
on her floors, leered at his own
youngest daughter, used her
hard-stitched quilts in his muddy barn,
thought it funny to point his rifle
at her. She dreamed of drawing
deep breaths in clean white sheets.

She never poisoned him at all.
She’d left him once, and he begged
her to return. This time she wouldn’t
come back. So he invented the tale,
passed it down through his kin,
how he’d taken the coffee
to the sheriff in town,
how afterward he’d thrown her out,
how she became a reader of palms.

Ode to Barn Clothes

Above the basement stairs, sturdy hooks
held the clothes my father called
his dungarees and coveralls, caked
with mud and manure, matched set

with the knee-high rubber boots
lined below on the wooden stairs,
uniform for wading into the barn,
for wandering the farm, world

he craved of cows, grass, hay,
woods and sky, all of it
escape from diesel fumes
and asphalt, bus and highways

that carried him daily miles and miles
away from the dirt he loved
and back again. Heaven for him
must smell of cattle and corn,

feel like the heft and swing of ax,
sun pouring down through oaks
and pines, days stretching out
like cattle paths that wind

down the hill to the creek
and return up the hill to the barn,
the coming and going of a life
happy to set root at last

in the rich soil of home.


February 22, 1996: Ate at fire department. Didn’t accomplish much. Hemmed the skirt on the two-piece shepherd-checked dress I bought. Let sleeves out to make them longer. I don’t like it as much as I thought I would. I wouldn’t have bought it if it hadn’t been on sale.—my mother’s journal

Who among us hasn’t acquired that thing
we came too quickly to regret: the dress
that needed altering, stoneware
with daisies too yellow, too large,

cheap sofa we thought looked good
that remained cold to our touch,
no matter the amount of time we tried
to warm it with our sitting. What is it

in us that makes us spend, reckless,
when we think we’re getting a deal? Why
are we willing to settle, telling ourselves
this will do, like saying yes to a spouse

we know drinks a little too much
but who we think has a decent heart?