Photo: Huntington, West Virgina. EEUU.
Grace Anastasia Pauley *
Underneath An Old Woman’s Bed
Some dust, cat hair, and an empty beer can.
Stubbornness personified. A little bit of embarrassment.
The same back-in-my-day comfort that came from late
night game shows, crossword puzzles, hair rollers,
and baby powder. A couple of habits that were
almost always mistaken for being stuck in the past,
or dependency. Like her love for cheap alcohol
and hard candies at Christmas time. A restless streak,
sometimes resulting in poems scribbled in the
margins of grocery lists which she had bound together
and tucked under a tear in the fabric of a sewing kit.
Bedtime stories like oral tradition. The one tale
about putting her sister’s lipstick on the dog,
right before the school dance. The decision to marry
young. But also, rebellion. Secretly passing scraps
to her husband’s hunting dogs despite his warnings
while he was working night shifts at the box factory.
A bit of change left over from his holiday bonuses.
A few confessions. One issued to the banker for hiding
three thousand dollars in the cellar freezer for twenty
years, another to her doctors for smoking a pack-a-day
since she was twelve. Stubbornness and nervous habits.
An ardent refusal to turn on the air conditioner
even on the summer nights and the decision to stop
driving. A white knuckle fear of bridges and highways.
The shame of being poor, and then the shame
of no longer being poor. A love of stewed
tomatoes and corn meal, as justification.
A couple of crumbs and dryer lint.
It is not a decision, but it is sometimes necessary
for a summer when you can’t go anywhere else.
It is temporary. It is not ideal. It is not rainwater
leaving rings in the birdbath, which reached the rounded brim
but never spilled over during the last rainfall.
It can be lonely but you know you are not alone in doing it.
No, it is not uncommon—as familiar as the sun stained porch
with softening wooden boards that get a shade duller each year.
Sometimes, it can be as heavy as humidity after a storm.
It is sleeping in the same damp sheets every night
and working at the Dawg Shack’s drive through every day.
It can be tiresome, and you know it is not something you can
do for too long. You remind yourself that it is only until September.
It is not the pair of boots underneath the hydrangea bush,
left there, forgotten about, and mildewing under white blooms.
Not the empty bird feeders dangling above this bush
in the perennial flower bed. Eventually, you will accept it.
Someday, you will remember it. Until then, you say
to yourself that it will be beneficial in the long run.
It is not the actual yard of your grandmother’s
house, where you are staying, although this is what
it reminds you of. Rather, it is the ability to look at
the yard–the birdbath, the porch and the boots—
as you pull up the gravel driveway after work and feel,
despite knowing that you did this yesterday and will do it tomorrow,
that this is both the first and last time you will ever see it.
It had to stay the same, for us,
because we couldn’t .
The houses with roofs that sag
like wrinkles or frowns couldn’t
change. They had to stay huddled
in valleys, hunkering down
like tired men taking lunch after
another morning in the mines. This proves
that some families can work like that
for generations. One bi-level
keeps at it, despite decrepit artificial
stone siding scarred with black dirt.
And these coal shavings have to keep
congregating in gravel streets and
idling in roadside ditches, so that
later we might understand that ugly
things can still be valuable. The trash,
too, must keep piling up in the
junkyards. A plastic Gatorade bottle
still rests on a severed rubber tire in
the middle of a field, and it must
do only this. As if to suggest that
in some cases decay could create change.
Downtown, the second story windows
of brick buildings have to be boarded
up, and then these boards must
begin to rot. The shops on the first
floor will keep their signs, yellowing like
smokers’ teeth, to show us how much
our past influences the present. The dogs
in the yards have to keep cocking their heads
through jagged and rust-stained metal
fences and settling for scraps while
the people in the houses keep taking
food heavy with bacon grease or
cornmeal or salt. All of the brambles
on the mountainside have to keep
shielding it, although the rock will
continue getting picked at. From
these brambles we learn resistance.
And our family, we had to leave,
so that now, we can return to our hometown
and remind ourselves that this same dying
is not about death, for us,
it is about birth.
The Kids Play In The Graveyard
The park across from their houses is full
of needles and older brothers and just
this morning a thick, limp rubber band
cut around the base of the jungle gym
as if it were another throbbing arm
and so the kids play in the graveyard.
They cross a highway to get there.
The people going fifty five miles per hour
see the kids just in time. Their feet hit
the brakes as their eyes get rounder
with fear and shock before they turn
resentful and curse behind windshields about
who is responsible for these kids. Nobody knows.
Everybody knows grief on this highway
and that it isn’t fair to have to bear the weight of
another’s life so suddenly, accidentally.
The kids, too, are afraid when they cross
the street but some like the whoosh
and shudder when a passing semi truck
tickles their backs. One girl doesn’t like it
because she knows what if would mean
for her family if she was found, flattened.
She thinks of her mother, of her mother
at work, of the steady sacrifices her mother
offers and presents like a tray of warm cookies
or a newly ironed dress laid out on her bed
and the thought is so sad and when the kids
reach the other side of the road the girl
wants to never do anything dangerous ever
again and do whatever it takes to stop thinking
this sad thought all at the same time.
Her heart beats hard like thank-you once she’s over
the graveyard wall and the thought passes.
In the graveyard the kids scatter in all directions
except for one boy who stands in the sun
with fists in his eye sockets counting to ten
slowly at first and then faster. The girl
tucks herself behind a familiar headstone.
Its sun drenched marble pricks against her skin
and the stone and the girl push against
each other. Her legs, taut, drive into the pinching
grass, drying at the ends, but she always hides
here and the grave’s stinging seems safe.
She tries to be quiet and stop breathing but her
heart is still beating thank-you thank-you
and she knows that she can’t remain here forever
because the park across from her house is full
of needles and so her mother has stressed
the value of an education and her grandfather
expects big things from this one and so she
hides and waits until she senses that she’s sat
here for too long and then she pushes off of the ground
full of dead people and with a dead man’s last name
pressed into the skin on her back she turns farther away
from the park and her house and the highway
and as she runs to a safer spot her heart keeps
beating thank-you thank-you thank-you even harder.
* Grace Anastasia Pauley is a recent graduate of Ohio University living in Bogota, Colombia for ten months to complete a Fulbright Grant. In college, she studied creative writing with a focus on poetry and creative nonfiction. Grace’s work has previously appeared in Alimentum Journal. In addition to writing Grace enjoys cooking, swimming, and late nights around bonfires.