Southern Legitimacy Statement: My father’s family were Appalachian farmers from Letcher County, KY and my mother’s were German Jews who ran a kosher deli on Beale Street in Memphis. I live in a remote fold of the NC mountains now. I still talk slow, still love my mother’s home-baked challah, still ask the land to please keep the bear out of my bee yard.
Shrine of the Broken Coyote
My grandfather kept a shrunken head in his living room,
one weird thing among thousands crammed into his small
single-level house in Memphis. He also had every issue
of Playboy magazine stacked neatly in the guest bedroom
where I slept when I stayed with him.
His father acquired at least two shrunken heads
in the ’30s from Peru—one has been the most famous item
in the Pink Palace Museum for decades, I don’t know why.
I liked his black masks and tall spears better, and
my aunt’s colorful collages made from cigarette papers
she picked up off roadsides in India where she lived.
In my twenties I worked for a museum and was charged
more than once with finding, hauling out, and displaying
one obscure item or another before the donor arrived
for a visit. Shined it up before someone in a suit
made the ask for a fat check, an assist.
I don’t think the shrunken head is ever taken
off display. They have a backup in the basement
although it’s actually made from a goat.
For more than a year now, residents of Palermo have
petitioned Saint Rosalia to protect them from Covid.
La Santuzza lived and died in a cave there almost
a thousand years ago. In 1624 the residents found her
bones and carried them around the city to stop the plague.
The bones were later discovered to actually belong
to a goat. This mattered to almost no one.
Some years are hard. The bones are still on display,
working their mojo. It’s good to have an assist.
How many packages of toilet paper do you still have
stacked in a closet somewhere? I currently have forty
single-ply rolls. My mother has ten times that many.
A month ago my father was bringing down a case,
fell and broke his hip, leg, and pelvis.
He still hasn’t come home from the hospital
and I’m furious at toilet paper right now.
Twenty feet above our road on a small ridge
of the mountain I found a coyote skull.
A massive abrasion goes all the way through
the brain case—I’m guessing it was hit by a
local truck, flung. That’s me, coyote coroner.
I brought home the skull and a femur and set it
on a stump in the woods. I bring snail shells,
chips of quartz, wildflowers and leave them there,
I don’t know why.
Devotees smuggled home Saint Catherine’s head
from Rome to Siena. It’s easier than concealing
a whole body. When the smugglers were stopped
the guards found only flower petals in the bag.
The petals later turned back into her head,
now displayed at San Domenico Basilica.
I don’t collect anything.
I do have small conversations with busy ghosts,
longer ones sometimes. I bring them flowers.