Sylvie of the Stone Stoop
I talk with Sylvie of the stone stoop
as her hand digs
around in the Cheetos bag for crumbs
and her bare feet swaddled in socks
made entirely of dirt
trace circles in the pea rocks
The humidity is already buzzing
every insect in the county
on a breezeless breathless day
so I speak up
knowing her momma
is listening on the other side
of the screen door
Sylvie builds mountains of pea rocks
surrounding a crater where her
castle grows formidable and queens
are kings and her queen commands
armies of lionesses
who stalk the perimeter of the realm
not even a goddess could hear
Sylvie’s cousin from St. Louie
mounts an attack
to break all of the beautiful things
in the kingdom
and is then banished to the weeds
by the dislodged drain pipe
where he will be eaten later
After we have named everything
in the grocery bags I brought
and the afternoon is just beginning
to wring out
we stand to do the goodbye dance
and I promise to come inside next time
My voice slides off the dark screen door
On my way down
the gravel road I turn back
to claim my forgotten messenger bag
Picking my way through
the weeds by the drain pipe
I round the corner as
“Momma, why don’t we like her again?”
Sylvie’s momma sighs
drags deep and long
on her Pall Mall
“Damn it, Sylvie.
She ain’t Jesus people.”
I cannot get
her words in my ears
and I am not certain
I can stand to hold
these lonely things.
Charlie says the day his momma died
the sky thundered his house so
I am here to assess the sky and discuss
things like how thunder is not an empirically
effective method of co-existing and how it creates structural damage over time.
I spend hours measuring and sorting the bits and pieces
of the past that are laying around visible
or that show themselves and their previous marks.
This pile seems reliable.
This pile seems gauzy and imprecise.
With no repair history or operating manual
for Charlie some paths
seem likely to be a waste of the little time
I have been given to choose which dents and scratches
to investigate so I wait for the more obvious
to give over. When an object is
caressed or kicked
or somehow disturbed it vibrates in such a way.
He prickles the hair on the back of my neck and
the standing wave patterns are thick and slow
in the sudden pressure change.
His words pelt the air
“Folks are the way they are ‘cause that’s how they’re
gonna be. This fixin’ sessions over.”
As Charlie’s daddy strides over to get him
Charlie kneels frozen with his emotions
ricocheting around the trail
we have blazed witness marked by all the
accidental or intentional times
he has been touched, plucked, yanked, shoved, or forgotten.
He’s right though, Charlie’s daddy.
Some folks are like the weather. It’s gonna
to be how it’s gonna be, so best to learn how to take shelter
from thundering skies
under the umbrella of
respite care, a momma’s helper, mandated family counseling,
and a Safety Plan to calm the thunder.
But I know the storm’s still raging. I can feel the
vibrations from miles away
and I can’t find a diagnostic code for
slow death by a thousand disturbances.
Signed, Legally Ryn
I thought anything was better than
watching you tear out your IV
and then be velcroed down
while you screamed you would never
be whole again.
So here I am with my face
wedged up against a milk crate
and this disgustingly rotten and sheetless
mattress where moldy food,
used Q tips, spent cigarette butts, and
a ripped Bible are smashed together
in an ashy mess of mice shit and hair.
No wonder god left.
It’s dangerous here amid the teetering
piles of your unfinished thoughts
and towering mounds of
Real Simple Magazines threatening
to consume me if the rank smell doesn’t kill me first.
The vacuum I bought you is buried under
clothes and Christmas ornaments still in wrappers
When I finally find the prescription bottles
they are full of untouched pills. Again.
Six months’ worth.
This saves me a stop on the
way back to the hospital.
When I see you tomorrow I
think I’ll tell you that I’m not
Mary Kathryn anymore.
Also, you should know
that I don’t blame you.
And I don’t forgive you either.
It’s Been Raining
Pager Message: Your client who was at the
Youth Detention Center is now not.
I need a description of him.
Resourceful. Doesn’t like to stay put in one place too long.
Current hopes and dreams are to secure a warm place to sleep
where the drug trafficking is at a minimum and to have one
adult in his life with a lick of sense who also occasionally
buys food and has no outstanding warrants. Hobbies
include learning to read and working on ways to manage hostility.
My Pager Response: White, shaved head, swastika tattoo
on his left forearm, white power tattoo
on the back of his neck. About 5’7”.
Pager Message: Any ideas how he’ll get home?
That’s 20 miles for him to cover.
And it’s freezing rain and dark.
I’m sure his Aunty will come to pick him up and
they’ll have milkshakes at Big Boy’s where
he will evaluate his life decisions and
decide that crime doesn’t pay and then they
will both conclude many a gap year is what is needed.
My Pager Response: He’ll take those train tracks by YDC.
They go all the way into the city and to the west side right by his house.
Also, he’ll be armed by the time he gets home.
And it’s been raining on this kid since forever.
He’ll make it back.
Right back to where he came from.