in the making, gathers
6 am every morning
for Senior coffee, just 50 cents
and stimulating conversation.
Letha Kyle bakes a sweet potato pie
people line up to buy each holiday,
a pie just the right balance of sugar
and butter, a crust that flakes
to melt in watering mouths.
The recipe, guarded more
than even Letha’s darkest secrets,
is rumored to pre-date the Civil War,
when Indians and buffalo ruled
this part of the country.
She reeled in the town’s confirmed bachelor
with her cooking, but the pie caught him,
married thirty years and counting,
no children, only the twin dachshunds
who eat grilled steaks that fill the house
with seasoned scents Letha and her man
forego cable television to buy.
No one will ever know
that Letha clipped her pie
from The New York Times when she
was twelve and Mama first let her
use the large, gas stove that marked
Letha’s womanhood. Mama proved
the power of femaleness, 90 years
of opening cans with her thick knife
and creating food from dabs, pinches,
tea cups, from the smells of her mixing bowl,
April 16, 2015
State Highway 129, just a small
artery from one interstate to another,
a narrow line on any map,
but home to this town
that serves good, farming folk
over two counties.
Everyone who is anyone knows
the dip at mile marker 22,
where the water covers the road
those rare times when it rains
Coyote and road runners rule
the byways, and the caliche,
dirt packed down year after year,
makes up the county roads
spiraling in all directions
from the two-lane asphalt.
They say Bonnie and Clyde
holed up in the abandoned shack
off CR 52, but that was many lifetimes
before cell phones and wireless connections
brought even Mesquite Bend into the worldly web.
These days, Indian Paintbrush and bluebonnets
bring Sunday travelers into the country
to snap pictures in the tall grass as if
snakes and chiggers did not first call
this ground home. City folk gaze
at the pretty eyes of the calves playing
in the Spring sun and pause
a moment to feel regret or shame,
but none truly know the mind it takes
to plant and grow, to feed and slaughter.
Only the highway sees all of it, the birth
and death of seasons as the cars blur
April 15, 2015
They have compounded drugs here,
topped off freshly-made sodas
with bright cherries, and held
the town’s many secrets
for almost as many years
as Mesquite Bend has had
its rusty population sign.
The third owner’s wife brought in
dishes and doilies, a registry
for young brides and perfumes
from the other side of the globe.
She wore red lipstick and swirly dresses
that swayed with her curvy hips.
These days, the soda fountain long gone,
the drug store’s wares are strictly
medicinal, the band-aids lined
with bunion cushions by pimple-faced
stockers who are guided by the stiff
Mrs. Lynn, General Manager and widow
to a war hero long forgotten by all
Some nights, well past the hour
when she locks up the store,
Mrs. Lynn returns to dispense
emergency medicines, any call
worthy of the bounty
of friendship in a town
where only this pharmacy holds
the health of them all
in its hands.
April 14, 2015
The sweet smells of cinnamon and cornbread
waft through the streets for a week
before the big day, women and men
sifting ingredients from memories
passed down for generations.
Reef Smith holds the record for farthest visitor.
His sixth grandchild travels from Michigan
every third year, no matter the weather.
Sally Hanes, who lives alone with two poodles,
invites all the singles from three different churches,
her unused kitchen feeding upwards of thirty
this day each year. The ninth grade class
holds its annual scavenger hunt tourney,
excited teams of boys and girls scurrying
from house to house to ask for such trinkets
as red dice and hair pins, their greedy fingers
sticky with the treats of pumpkin cookies
and blueberry bars that adults gratefully
place into their hands.
By noon, all televisions are tuned
to the waning minutes of parades,
mouths salivating for turkey and games
pounded out on artificial turf.
In days, leftovers of leftovers long
forgotten, the neighbors watch each other
string lights on rooftops and along bushes,
mouths watering in anticipation of gingerbread
and the promise of the greatest
gift of all.
April 13, 2015
The first trip to the big city
is a rite of passage, even for the boys
who practice looking “cool”
as they hang out in the food court
between viewings at the movieplex,
with its IMAX screen and 3D images.
The girls map out the stores that fill
their dreams each night, their fingers
tingling with the thrill of touching
what they can otherwise only see in magazines.
Some come for the specialists who care
for the sick in a three-county-radius,
another rite of passage.
The two-hour drive across flat plains
dotted with mesquite trees and tumbleweeds,
fields of cotton and cattle grazing
on stubs is filled with music blaring
from radios tuned to Oldies stations,
country music, or football games
waving through the air. Even tornadoes
know to flow in straight lines here,
running parallel to a universe
where tradition clings like the bugs
in the grills of every truck and car
whizzing down the highway.
April 12, 2015
Cicadas cast oblong shadows
on the hard-packed dirt
that counts as the road
leading up to the field
Old Man Grievy gifted the town
more than four decades ago,
its treeless expanse the sun-baked
home to baseball games
these summer evenings.
A breeze in this dry air
makes even the warmest days
bearable, as the Mom brigade
totes coolers full of Cokes
and bologna sandwiches
to this main event just past
the outskirts of legal city limits.
The Syler brothers hover
at the edge of the field,
often at the bottom of the third,
their cooler full of beer
hauled in from two counties over
just for nights like these.
Truck lights beam across home plate
as dusk blinks out the sunshine,
all radios tuned to the fuzzy sounds
of a country station filling in the spaces
between the clack of wooden bats,
the hum of crickets, and the lonely hoot
of an owl on some distant hunt.
Armed with gossip and iced tea,
Rose Rayborn glides between the groups
of lawnchaired adults, hardly noting
the rugged play of mixed teams
just a few feet away from her. Rose
holds the truths of every player
to her chest like the treasure
of the child who left Mesquite Bend
more than a decade ago,
his baseball days tucked away
like the baby clothes Rose
has wrapped in tissue paper
in her hallway closet.
April 11, 2015
This auto shop has served model-As
and International Harvesters. Some days
it even serves the loose chains or flat tires
of bicycles young boys wobble
to the open bay doors.
Turrell Price, the fourth owner
of this mechanical haven, bears knuckles
the size of walnuts, their deep lines
creased in grease that no scrubbing
will rub out. His rosy cheeks
and gleaming, white smile
have more than one lady
inventing funny noises
to be looked at, but Turrell
only has eyes for the sleek lines
of any engine. Rumor claims
he loved a girl once, a tall,
blonde beauty with milky skin
who left town with a slick salesman
but still writes in loopy curves
that smell like sweet perfume.
Only young Billy Klein knows
the real Turrell. Only Billy has seen
the giant mechanic waltz alone
amongst the cars and trucks
he cares for, the clear pings
of Hank Williams wafting in the air,
Turrell’s large feet floating
in a shadowy kind of dance.
April 10, 2015