Roots in Virginia

Grandma was a pillow
She twirled my pigtails
The Greyhound bus pushed through the fog
Like a shovel through Virginia
We bumped on in to coal country

Mama skittered like rain on hard ground
Cigarette ash long and curved
Irradiating her cheek in a sullen glow
We road the bus forever
Bucking the furrowed road

She said
My roots are in Virginia.
And planted a sideways glance
Green eyes spiked with thorns
Seeking moisture
She tipped the bottle like a trumpet

Grandma’s damp affection
The studded metal roof
Faces formed of rusted rivets
Screeching brakes mimicked
The claws of nausea that raked my gut
Mama took my left hand
Grandma my right
I spewed into the weeds
At Piggly Wiggly
We crouched together

The road – a black ribbon
Tied up the mountains
Clothed in September reds
Stitched with asphalt
Edged with glinting gold
The periwinkle sky peeked but
Clouds dominated

Exhausted we arrived
Houses tossed like pickup sticks
Rickety in the Appalachian ambiance
The door creaked, uninviting
A witch’s maw
Chairs shrouded in smudged sheets
Ghost piano draped in linen shadows
Grim tables
Sunken couch

Phantom light through coal blackened windows
A vapor of forgotten memories
Mama was a girl here
Not yet sodden
We disturbed the air
Sluggish tornadoes, unaccustomed to swirling

The house pushed me out like
Oil paint from a tube
A splotch of pink
In an abstraction of mute

The house perched a cliff
Backyard plunged vertical
Patterned green, a dizzy portrait of
Fall, a season and a danger
The bottom, just a theory
I edged back from the edge

Then carried on a whisper
A southern voice
My city eyes widened
The neighbor lady spoke
I’m Theresa.
Are you Bunny’s little girl?
Is she back?
Honey child – she was a beauty.
A dog barked at her window
Theresa clipped snippets of memory like violets
And offered me a handful.

Your Mama sang and danced
Graceful as a willow
Famous round these parts
Well loved
She went a hoppin’ off
You favor her, you know that?

My eyes brushed down, face burning
A late, tender shoot, innocent as a curl
Brushed my sneaker toe, interesting
Among the browned grass
A disobedient tear zigzagged
Wended its way to my chin
A rope of regret like saltwater taffy
Stretched between us

I ran inside in a bashful flurry
To the kitchen
Corners cloaked in darkness
Grandma pulled at white bread
Slapped turkey on a paper plate

Mama clutched a bottle
Leaned against the oilcloth table
Blue shirt smudged
“Where did you go?, she cried.
Eyes, narrow green.

There was nothing I could do
But search for candles


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