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.

***

Carlos

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.