SAY ONE WORD TO ME
My mother cannot catch
baby alligators, but that is, perhaps,
because she is dead. Before then, she had her chance,
and every night I reminded her
that people were going to be inside
my pajamas. Against the back of my thigh,
she smacked one of my sister’s baby dolls.
Each afternoon was like
baptism when I emerged from
the school bus. Soon I was in a bright
green field, filled with
bald heads from cow accidents.
Our house was surrounded
by some of the best climbing trees I’d ever seen. Butterflies
floated toward my desperate touch.
A loud voice was a knock that sucked me back
down the tree trunks,
and I realized I could not hide, even from God
or my mother.
The fact that I wanted to catch
the gray light,
caused my mother to frown.
She crumpled up
her eyes, grabbed my arm,
Say one word to me—
her yanking was never in a good mood.
My bed was a
prison of ruffles
that dreamed of becoming
a giant tree.
It could have been
the perfect Florida day—
the grass in the back yard,
lizards waving at my hair in a
state of half straight,
to unlatch my windows.
I could hear the voices
glued to my bed. Lace and bows stuck out of my ears
like horns. I’ve always been off-center,
and now it’s as if I’m missing an eye
or a limb, but now, of course, my mother
cannot yell at me. She cannot even see me holding
this yellow light that hangs from my fingers.
FLORIDA SURVIVAL GUIDE
Here, even the squirrels know how to peel
an orange. They live, sometimes,
without tails or without feet pulled off by hawks.
For several years we lived with drought
and the county law of not watering the lawn
except on Thursdays and Sundays.
Now the pond is filled again—water from
three hurricanes in one season, and my yard
is spattered with those gray tails flitting along
aluminum poles that hold up the bird feeders
above the wicked middle fingers
of the saw palmettos. During the second
hurricane, we hunkered down
in our hallways with candles, flashlights,
and battery-powered radios, waiting to hear
where the eye of the storm would pass,
and I thought about a trail where I once saw
a sinking Chevy pickup truck.
Here, in Florida, you do not need a watch.
Here you begin to understand why the elderly
spend years in the swamp, waiting to wear
the grave’s black hair. The night of the first hurricane,
I knew not to be fooled into false security
during the lull of the storm. Days earlier,
we’d bought jugs of water, filled our bath tubs,
emptied food from our refrigerators, and some
of us placed orders across county lines for generators.
The evening before, we moved our cars,
wisely waited in long lines to fill gas tanks.
At home, we gathered candles, brought in the
lawn furniture, carried potted plants
into the garage. The morning after, I stepped out
the front door and walked over the limbs,
which the day before had hung high above
my flower bed. On the street:
trees and power poles. Neighbors came out
from under fallen trees, clinging to their own bodies
as if a ghost, without warning, would pull them up
from our muddied street like feathers,
as if their houses could no longer protect them
from this world. We stood in the street, the neighbors
and I, shaking our heads, saying nothing.
VERONICA, 7, WHO LIVES WITH HER FATHER AT THE HOMELESS SHELTER WILL SOMEDAY BE A FAMOUS SINGER
She is the wild horse of night, panhandling me
while she holds onto her pink, mind-boggling hope,
even though dozens of men
hang just outside her room, and still she is
a singing rock. I oblige her
and write out the words for her poem:
Someday, she tells me to write,
I will be a princess.
Someday I will see my mom.
It is a building without a sign,
filled with hunger.
Tonight we glue felt pieces together,
red and green, to make a Christmas elf,
but Veronica will have none of it.
Instead we must finish the poem:
Someday I will be nice,
she makes me write. As we leave
the room, she takes
my hand, leads me into
the honey-walled “Learn and Play” room,
to show me her girls:
This is Amanda, and this is my baby girl, Rosie.
She overlooks the rotting teeth
in the women here, overlooks the other two families
living in her dorm, overlooks why her mother is missing
from her life, while hand-written numbers droop
on each door. These children sing
like seaside sand about what is given
to them within the curtain
of dirty halls, within the fall
and rise of free ladles. They grasp
their nightly homecoming
with surprise, though all the city’s
traffic moves in the opposite direction.
Veronica remains open to what is going away
and what will return,
to women wearing anonymous dresses,
to rosaries that wake the footsteps of dead baskets.
Here all the boys and girls believe they are lucky,
they gather laughter from the hope
of one day becoming
famous—they are like all children:
they dive under tables, they bounce
on chairs, Veronica begs for me to spell “princess”—
something, she reminds me again,
she will one day become.
They all want to draw with the gold crayon,
especially Veronica, who has lived here
with her father, for two years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Terry Ann Thaxton’s two books of poems include Getaway Girl and The Terrible Wife which won the 2013 Florida Book Award Bronze Medal, and one textbook Creative Writing in the Community: A Guide (2014). She won the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize at the The Missouri Review and has published essays and poetry in Connecticut Review, Defunct, Gulf Coast, Cimarron Review, flyway, and other journals. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.