Stories allow us to spend time with the living and the dead. In the acts of telling, reading and writing them, we discover truth and meaning--things we didn't know we knew. I’m often surprised by where the words and memories take me. I write to discover my life and share it with others. Sometimes a poem or story will connect two, seemingly disconnected events and bring new insights. The following is a story poem about my favorite aunt She is an old lady now, but each time I read this poem she grows young and beautiful again. My dead brother is brought back to life. This poem rose out of an exercise to make a list of "off the bell curve" characters we'd known, choose one, and remember a specific moment in time. When I began to write this story poem, I had no idea it would lead me to my brother and the heroin addiction that killed him.
IN MY FAVORITE EASTER MEMORY OF LILLIAN NEL
I am ten years old and she, perhaps thirty,
Chanel #5 and whiskey.
She leans against the basement pool table,
Strikes a sultry pose, like Lauren Bacall,
Cigarette balanced in her right hand.
Her long, autumn-leafed hair brushes
Against the yellow collar of her shirtwaist,
Cinched in with a grass-colored belt,
Matching stiletto heels,
A purse the size of Portugal.
Lillian Nel inhales. Her cigarette
Glows ruby-colored gems,
Birthstone rings on every finger.
My brother’s dazzling smile,
Humphrey Bogart eyes, lures her to his game.
As white smoke curls into the light,
Hovers above her, a vaporous halo,
She takes her cue, looks up at me through
Spider-leg lashes and shoots—the white ball
Clacks against a triangle
Bright as Easter eggs dyed last night
Because Jesus rose from the dead.
As balls dart out, sink into felted pockets
And disappear, my brother raises a toast to
Our favorite aunt, for whom no rules apply.
Behind the bar, Patsy Cline falls to pieces,
And my father, his Hamm’s beer sign flashing
Blue neon on his hair, pours his sister another.
Upstairs, my mother, who doesn’t approve of women
Who smoke, play pool, and drink whiskey sours,
Fries our aunt’s favorite buttermilk-battered chicken
In a cast-iron skillet. Though she longs for glamour,
Lillian Nel can’t escape her Appalachian past
Any more than my brother, his school photos
Still smiling above the knots in the pine paneling,
Will dodge a future where the god of heroin waits--
A gaping black pocket
Where brightness disappears.