Katherine Anderson Howell : Poetry : July 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: The joke is that my ancestors ran brothels and stole hogs in South Carolina; that’s why we lived in Mississippi. I know the way that pine trees bend in hurricane winds, and I know how catfish should be prepared (lightly fried, salt and pepper). My accent retreated over the years of living elsewhere, but when I am angry or emphatic, it returns. I use honorifics with people I don’t know, and lift two fingers from the wheel to greet other drivers. I live in Washington, DC now and am continually perplexed that people think this is South. It is, on a technicality. But I know that camellias, iced tea, and heavy rainshowers on a sunny afternoon make the South, not a line in the states.

Three Poems

Interstate Sunrise

Night thick, dark: a line
of smoke. Headlights
hurtle through blackness,
a fog erases Lake
Pontchartrain. The bridge passes
over nothing; existence ends
at the high beams.

Sun will rise in short miles
to tires’ road groan,
to pine trunks in grey
five o’clock morning, reaching up.



Thick green stems and yellow
blooms weave your name
into construction scaffolding
outside a K Street Starbucks.
A man says, “We loved him.
He is gone.
We will come back.”

Carlos, the sunflowers professed
your full name. Already
I have lost the last.
Where did it go? Drip
down my throat when
I opened my mouth to speak it?
Slide onto the sidewalk,
through the storm drain
when I looked again to read it?

What can your first name tell me?
I cannot understand
who you were, how you died,
why you are remembered here,
under the scaffolding with sunflowers,
who this man is that loves you.

Carlos, soon I will lose
even the s; it will slip
away in the night as I sleep.
And the o will follow, opening
a window to run find s
whom o loves. Soon,
nothing will be left,
not the scaffolding,
not even the flowers
wilting in the K Street shade.


A week after

the police found my aunt’s body, a strange woman in an airport bar scolded me for not smiling. Right there, over the French fries and the plastic forks, I should smile, give thanks for God’s timing, for mail piling up, alarming the neighbors right before Christmas. The woman smiled. I saw her wig, her teeth and I wanted to hit her closed-fisted, to see if that wig would go flying into my beer, to see if I could knock out a crown with my knuckle. I wanted to let blood warm my fingers, to know if her tooth was sharp enough to cut the skin of my hand. I wanted stitches up her lip, raw skin from wig tape yanked off. I wanted handcuffs to resist, bruise my wrists. To think about bail instead of my aunt waiting a lifetime for the empty bottles and isolation to get to work. Instead, I swallowed, stormed to the bathroom, grimaced in the angry mirror, bared my teeth.