Bio-Note: I’m a semi-retired contractor with a lifetime of small jobs repairing homes. I grew up in Maryland where the Civil War was still raging in restaurants and bowling alleys with secret code, and heaven help you if you took a sip from the wrong fountain.
Southern Exposure, 1967
I know the white South, warn her
but she wants to see Mardi Gras
and I love her madly.
Jackson, Mississippi has ‘colored’ restrooms
unmarked because illegal, watched by
a rooster man, teeth of yellow, neck of red
shouting, poking fingers in my chest
scared by my beard, her beads.
She pulls me back on the bus.
Peace, she says. Peace.
Which saves a lot of grief.
Beyond Baton Rouge
a greasy white man in a banker’s vest
beckons a little black girl: Come sit on my knee.
She’s scared. She goes.
He says she’s a precious peony
which he grows for the fragrant flower
as he bounces her deep into his lap.
He squeezes her ribs with his fat hands
saying he wants to take her home
and plant her in his best soil of the Delta.
All the while the girl’s mother sits across the aisle,
eyes a narrow slit.
Every passenger’s lip, grim.
Every eye, flame.
In the weird dynamic of the South in 1967
the whole bus simmers on the verge of explosion.
No peace, says my love rising. No peace with that.
The driver slams to a stop, says: Off.
Us? we say.
Yeah you, he says. Get off, hippies.
By the side of a swamp she sobs.
Hold me, she says. Just hold me.
We walk a mile.
A shack is selling fried frog legs.
As we stand by the road with greasy thumbs
a woman stops with a Plymouth full of pups.
One licks our fingers, instant bond.
The Greyhound driver likes puppies,
lets her ride on our laps to Saint Lou.
A practice child, then nanny to our kids.
Here, meet Nola the river dog.
Peace, Nola barks, Peace! with a Cajun accent,
meaning I’m watching you so don’t mess with the kids.
Then with a warm tongue she licks your hand.
First published in MOON Magazine
© 2019 Joe Cottonwood
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