The Home We Will Remember
I am born in the black hills of eastern Kentucky
to a young woman from the Gulf Coast of Texas
who sews matching dresses for her three daughters
and sings at church to the kind of God that requires
service Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday, and the occasional Saturday.
She weeds clover out from under her
orange blossoms, watches her pregnant neighbor
eat paint chips from her window sill
and listens to Rachmaninoff. Appalachia’s blue ash
and accordions are not my mother
who grew up picking cotton, a penny a pound.
She begs my father to leave. He doesn’t.
For a while. In a tan VW bug
with a diaper pail swishing in the back,
ammonia wafting, my mother drives us away
from the Ashland hills to the home
we will remember, where alligators live
in the swamp near the public swimming pool,
the garbage truck will save us from a four-foot flood,
and my sister will collect tarantulas with broken legs.
We will hide in bathtubs from tornadoes
and water our house in droughts
to keep from losing the foundation.
My sisters and I were birthed in the hollers
but our bodies know
the salt marshes, big sky, and green lizards.
We belong to our mother’s land,
its tortillas and fried catfish,
its beaches and its air.
This morning my love and I wake up in Lenin Park
in a bed of banana leaves. Skinny black chickens peck
at the crumbs we’ve left from our bánh mì.
A woman pumps her sugar cane wheel. We drink
the sweet juice and call it breakfast. My love
joins the shoeshine boys in their game
knocking Coke cans over. He throws his black dress shoe
into their heap of yellow plastic sandals and lets them win.
We walk to the Red River’s brown water. He flags down
the woman with the motorboat and loads our bicycle. We float
away from the city to the village where his mother lives.
The boatwoman, she paddles, navigates us past water
buffaloes blowing bubbles. When we arrive downstream,
we unload our bike. I sit on the rack. He carries me
through rice fields. We weave on rutted paths.
His mother greets us in her rubber boots,
a bandana over her head. Have you eaten yet? she asks.
Before we answer, she says, let’s start with the dead.
His five-year-old brother blew up in a landmine yesterday
while digging for gold she buried during the war.
She tells us this as if she’s reading the newspaper.
His mother has forgotten how to mourn.
The clouds separate and rain barrels catch my grief.
She mixes coal powder with water, shapes it
to look like cow dung, slaps it to the wall for drying,
and sings Mùa Thu Cho Em.
Laura P. McCarty’s creative work has appeared in The Rumpus, Lunch Ticket, descant, Jelly Bucket, the St. Petersburg Review, among other publications, including a family anthology of poetry My Mother, My Daughter, My Sister, My Self. She was a finalist for the 2020 D.C. Poet Project and a finalist for the 2016 Diana Woods Memorial Award in non-fiction. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas, Austin, and her MFA from American University. Her debut book of poetry, Just One Swallow, was published in 2020 by Day Eight. Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri described Just One Swallow, “A credit to the narrative tradition and has no superior. Her debut book is astonishing reading.”
Image by Rafael Rodrigues Camargo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59893673.
Author image by GBG Photography.