Two Poems

Micro-Memoirs by Patricia Henley

 
 
Mean Streak
 
I come from a line of headcheese makers. Pigs’ feet boiling on the stove did not in any way offend them. Ada, Mary, Anna, Mina. They had seven cats. When necessary, Aunt Ada killed the kittens. She drowned them in a bucket of water, pushing their shrunken-apple heads down under with a wooden spoon. Religious women, all of them, with rosaries pooling on the coffee table. Some vegetarians say they won’t eat anything with a mother, but I don’t go that far. Eggs are good and beautiful if they come from chickens scratching in a rural yard. There were those fish-and-chips lunches, newspaper-wrapped, in Galway. Still, the chewing is laborious. At Buckles Feed, I avoid the pyramids of sows’ ears. Ada, Mary, Anna, Mina came from the old country in steerage when their father committed suicide. They had seen wolves. They had seen ghosts. They lived near castles belonging to the rich folks. Budapest was the party town. They were a Celtic people long ago. Did they inherit a pilfered drinking cup carved with images of slaughter? Or bone crochet hooks? I am that close to peasant stock. Once I killed a salmon. He was already unattractive and dying after the long swim from the ocean upriver. Still he wanted to live. I had to beat him to death with a stick, my husband at the time egging me on. It was something we did together. All that killing. Bear, goat, sheep, deer, moose, elk. That old shaggy salmon wasn’t good meat. Then there was the pig I raised with a neighbor, roly-poly, delighted with the paradise he found himself in. Plenty of table scraps and shade and half-naked women walking by with garden implements over their shoulders, en route to garden plots. They stopped by and scratched his back, giggling endearments. His was a slow, brutal death. The neighbor shot him numerous times. He stared at us: Why, why? In the brushed bronze fall light, fiery beetles that everyone mistakes for ladybugs progress across the kitchen counter and I flick them away, although I still squash mosquitoes if they aren’t too quick for me. I knew I’d made a turn when I went to Vietnam and saw the monkeys killed before the eyes of waiting dinner patrons. No more the Crock-Pot bubbling. No more the backstrap soaked in butter and smoked garlic. No more grease. No more cathedral ruins of bone after the holiday turkey. No more tenderloin sandwiches. No more blue-cheese burgers. No more bacon. No more gristle.

 

Fog Clearing
 
Sometimes I think I’m at the sea. Moving alone is that confusing. In the long ago I scavenged all those boxes, and the man du jour called friends for help in exchange for the cheapest beer at the corner store. Now boxes cost $3.79 apiece. Apiece. Sometimes I think I’m at the sea. The fog of a morning like batted cotton, the wind I euphemistically call a breeze. Birds that sound like gulls. My geographic locus of determination wobbles, a tipsy instrument. Mountains, I tell myself, these are mountains. Appalachia. Get grounded, I tell myself. Two funeral homes across the street attest to the inevitable. People like to say transitioning now instead of dying. Whatever. Max once told me: I hope you live to be two hundred. My little slice of the pie seems too stingy a sweet. Max is only ten, but I want to see Max old. I want the sea, the mountains, lakes, and tarns, Manhattan, LA, Yellowstone, unnamed buttes in Montana, a scruffy picnic table under hemlocks, wildflowers of the Rockies, wildflowers of the Alps, a place to squat and pee away from nettles. I have loved train stations in England and Switzerland and Toronto. Loved the frozen clang of the workers hammering ice off the couplings. Loved the lightning storm on the Fraser River, twenty miles from a road. Loved the China Sea, and the woman there in a blue shirt selling dumplings from nesting tin boxes. Loved the drunks, singing in a Dublin pub. If I drink the water and nibble local artichokes in local butter, does that mean a place has entered me forever? That at the end it goes to ground with me at the cease of the nomadic life? At the blazing cease. I want to see my new town new, as a baby would or someone high on LSD, but I have the woeful habit of comparing and contrasting. One town against another. A man measured against another man. Moon against moon. Winter against winter. Especially that—the winters. The locals warn me nearly every blossom-laden day. How bad can it be? In Canada I dug a trench through house-high snow from the truck to the back door, and it was minus thirty three weeks in a row. Top that, Appalachia. If I happen to mention that winter, people say: Ah, but you were younger then. The man I was with got into a fistfight with the guy next door. I was distracted for decades. Married to three men! What was I thinking? Thick-headed, I disremembered adolescent dreams of single women living in apartments on Wabash Avenue, above a record store or near the college. They smoked on the fire escapes. They soaked in tubs of lavender salts. Red birds reposed on their kimonos. Billie Holiday tunes hummed under their skin.

Patricia Henley is the author of three novels, four collections of stories, two chapbooks of poetry, a stage play, and numerous essays. Her novel Hummingbird House was a finalist for The National Book Award and will be reissued in a 20th anniversary edition by Haywire Books in November 2019. Her most recent collection of stories — Other Heartbreaks — was published by Engine Books. She grew up in Terre Haute but lives in Maryland now.