Virginia Ruth 1932-2010

“who in the hell
buries old folks
at noon
in the middle of the summer?

he thought
as he took the 3rd drag
from his cigarette
sweltering in Georgia’s June heat
beneath his brown polyester suit
squinting from the glare
of midday sun off the hearse’s grill

he hated
his wife
the fake sincerity
he offered week after week
to the families
of blue haired old ladies
this had been his Pa’s bizness
and he lacked the gumption to try anything else

The preacher babbled on aimlessly
Virginia Ruth’s daughter cried.
Her grandson laid a pink carnation
across her steel gray casket.
Ms. Virginia had planned this day
oh so carefully, each detail finely honed

Nervous about the fact that the
funeral director was gonna see her naked
as he embalmed her – No man had seen
her naked since her
Robert Earl had not come back from Korea
that terrible January in 1952.

She would have felt betrayed
by his sweat and indifference.
His exhales over nicotine,
while Preacher Turnipseed
was sending her home
to be with God.

He plotted his final revenge.
An elaborate display of mourning
that would be required
on the day of his passing
to be orchestrated
by the chubby wife
who held him in quiet disdain.
Ornate finery, pipe organs, rose wreaths.

Little did he know.
She was cremating his ass
takin’ the insurance money
headin’ to Cancun
with their gravedigger.

the grass is always greener

She wasn’t particularly beautiful
even though her mama had named her after
Elvis and Priscilla’s own
when Elvis reigned king in these parts -
but Lisa Marie Smithwhick was good.

She raised her younguns to believe in the Lord
read Woman’s World magazine, canned beans in the summer,
was in the recipe circle at church, always had perfect daylilies, coached softball, and believed the stories on the Lifetime channel.
Her doublewide was gonna be paid
for in the Fall and she wasn’t yet 43.

Every Wednesday night when Mr. Merritt, Lisa Marie’s neighbor,
watches Jeopardy and reads the paper, he hears
Lisa Marie’s boyfriend comin’ down the alley
in his ole ‘72 Ford -
glasses perched precariously on
the edge of his nose,
never liftin an eye from the page,
he says to his wife
“tonight’s Lisa Marie’s sex night”
This is the steady momentum by which her world runs.

Cinnamon Rose Southall
was the antithesis of all of these things.
She never used a recipe when she cooked,
hated TV, could kill a silk plant,
had moved 6 times in the last 7 years,
read Russian poetry, didn’t believe in softball
and sometimes wondered about the Lord –
‘cept at sunset and when she held her babies.
Then the Lord was real to her.
She was a bit of a gypsy.
‘Wayward’ is what her Grandma had called her.

No one woulda ever thought they could meet at the fence
and talk ‘til the mosquitoes started bitin’.
The daylillies leavin dust on their knees as they
discussed the grocery’s ad, local headlines,
giggles, tomato vines, and gossip.

Lisa Marie had finally convinced her Mama
that the girl with the funny name was just like them,
worthy of being spoken to when she bumped into her
down at the dollar store
Cinnamon Rose always walked away wonderin’
what it felt like to have someone love you enough
to save Wednesday nights just for you.

An interchange of worlds completely separate
existing calmly within each other.

Maybe they should send some chain link fence
and daylillies to the Middle East, instead of tanks.


Rebecca -
eloquent, serene, beyond beautiful.
The timeless image
of a girl in a flowing dress –
one you would have found over your
grandmother’s piano in 1934.

The only child
of a difficult divorce -
she spent her weekends
in the country
with Granny. Her haven from real life.
Harlequin Romance, black coffee,
perfect biscuit, mouth of a sailor Granny.

Hide n seek in the corn patch,
swingin’ from the tire swing
'neath the old pecan tree,
dreams of adulthood and
the ability to make
her own decisions
while she stared at fluffy clouds
over by the tigerlily patch,
bluegrass on her front porch
‘til the fireflies
went to sleep….
idealistic it all seems
to one glancing retrospectively.

Time slowly turns her awkward childhood
into a stunning woman.
Granny becomes a widow,
moves to town,
marries a general,
lives in a 3 bedroom ranch,
wears diamonds,
quits smoking,
reads Barbara Taylor Bradford

becomes the bride
of that handsome lawyer
from New York. She’s been to Ireland.
Drives a ‘fancy’ foreign thang.
One of them cars made over in Europe.
Has had her hair straightened,
a new house up in the mountains,
and plays her great grandmother’s piano
in the front hall.

Granny thinks about her all the time.
Remembers when she used to call just to say ‘i love you’.
Granny still sends a card every birthday,
wonders if she shouldn’t have married the general,
worn diamonds as much, maybe she shoulda made more biscuits.
She prays to understand where she went wrong
or’s just kids these days.

buries herself in
the duties of being a lawyer’s wife.
Remembers rockin’ on the porch
with Granny at midnight,
listening to the cicadas sing,
and wonderin’ how Granny didn’t know
Grandpa was touchin’ her
in all those bad places.

she prays regular

they found him
slumped over by the back fence
where he used to dump
the pea hulls after shellin’
them with her
under the carport
‘neath the fishin poles.

the gun was still
layin’ there on the ground
in the tall summer grass

He wasn’t her first grandchild
or the only boy
but he was the one
that needed her most.
In her simple understanding
and limited experience of affection,
need was synonymous with love.
So, he was the one that
loved her the most.

When she came to
they tried to tell her
there was no one to blame
but him. She screamed in rage.
Pointed her finger,
assured the officers
that ‘the coloreds’ from
down in the projects
had done this to him.

She buried him nicely.
Too full of anger and indignation
to cry. Too hot in a Georgia July
to linger over his grave.

It’s been 20 years now.
She makes quilts for needy ones.
Still shells peas in the summer.
Volunteers with the church.
Goes to prayer supper every Wednesday night
prays for his soul and tells anyone that’ll
listen that the Sheriff is still workin’ with her
on findin’ the colored boys that did this to her baby.

We each do what we must
to bear the lines
of our story.

a ballad

She still remembers
how beautiful he was
when he walked in that mornin’
ordered coffee, lit a cigarette
it was the Cherokee Indian in him -
the high cheekbones,
perfect olive skin,
coal eyes.

She was a single mama
with a handicapped toddler
and a desperate story.
Tryin' to pay the rent
by gettin' orders right
and prayin' for a tip
from old bastards bitter
about love, life and money.

Her mama had named her
after his favorite flower.
His Mama had been brutal.
After sleepin' in cars at 14,
bein’ beaten by whatever
man Mama loved that week
and givin' up on ever findin’ softness from a woman -
Rose’s devotion to her less than perfect child
moved things in him that he didn’t know were there.

And god almighty, she could cook collard greens and cornbread
like none he had ever known.

He loved her baby. Paid all the bills. Worked hard.
Made the baby his own. She never knew no other Daddy.
Rose was grateful.
Then the love settled down,
and his memories riled up.
Alcohol. Weed. Nights away.
He blamed all the ‘Jezebels’
on the Devil, instead of just sayin’
he was a son of a bitch.
Rose looked the other way.
Grew thorny. Lost her sweet scent. Withered.

What’s a Mama to do?
She’s old now.
Collard greens and cornbread cookin’
won’t pay the rent, take care of her handicapped woman
or buy a week’s worth of cigarettes.

Love – always a compromise.


He wasn’t an alcoholic.
Alcoholism was for the weak.
He was just a Southern boy
that liked cold beer-
enough to take it with him
everywhere he went.

Best friends
since they were 11,
she didn’t feel the need to argue
about it or make any points.

Quite honestly, she was proud
that alcohol was the only salve
he'd chosen to soothe
all those wounds.

They hadn't met
when his Mama died-
but he told her about reading Mama stories in their old oak bed
while she battled the demons of cancer.
When she was gone, he didn’t cry.
His Mama had cried plenty enough for the both
of them, realizing the monster
she was leaving 'em with.

Time goes on and
a boy becomes a man.
Years of friendship
finally reach their fulfillment
in the smoldering heat of a slow
summer afternoon.

It only makes them softer.
Answers all the questions
that neither had the courage to ask.

But he loves cold beer.
She wants steadiness for her children.
Today she sat
with her feet in his lap
his hands placed softly around her ankles.
He’s gonna be a Daddy.
The wedding is in three weeks.
They finish their lunch.
She asks about names, morning sickness, wedding aperitifs.

Hugs him bye, kisses his forehead, kisses each cheek-
Implores him to send
the new mother her warmest congratulations.
He whispers .....‘I will, I will’.

A Grandma Now

Willie Bell Smith always
reeked of Evan Williams
mixed warmly with Prince Albert tobacco
no matter the time of day or occasion.

She bore a continuous, toothless smile
combined with drunken lanky hugs
ready for you, or anyone that looked her way,
gave her half a chance for a smokey wet kiss.
Graceful, pretty, demure – she was not.

No one would have ever guessed
she was the mother of
one so eloquent or placid
in appearance as Mary.

with slanted eyes, full red lips,
ebony skin, thick black hair
that touched the top of her small round hips
- could have easily passed for a Nubian Queen
had she been properly costumed.

Instead of gold bangles and royal attire
Mary was Willie Bell's daughter,
Charles’ widow.
Charles who died at 35.
Cancer ate him from the inside out
after years of workin in the fertilizer plant.

Charles, her serene love. The father of her 7 children.
Of course,
he was just a colored boy in the rural South–
so the fertilizer plant felt no need to pay a thing.
That’s what happens to poor colored boys.

Mary took her mourning,
tossed it with her determination
moved her 7 kids to the 'white side' of town.
While Willie Bell drank whiskey and
watched the kids play in the yard,
Mary earned a living.

She cleaned white folks houses,
drove a bus, scrubbed toilets,
made sure they missed no meals,
all 7 had shoes for school, ribbons for their hair,
the dishes were washed, the leaves were raked.

Mary loved and had been loved
all the ways she felt were needed.
She knows one day, she’ll have her Charles back.
She’ll tell him about puttin' the kids to bed,
layin' in the front room
under the white chenille spread,
wishin he was there to finish the braid in her long side plait.
She'll put her hand on his thigh and tell him how,
she was the one that got to sit under the magnolia
and see their grandkids play.

Watchin the sky, wishin for him.