Friday, December 21, 2012


i was 47 when sudie was born, long past the time i thought i could have children--long, long past the time anyone thought it decent to have a child.  the red of my hair was fading into gray, my face held the wrinkles that spoke of my life lived on a farm. at my age, my siblings and i discussed our grandchildren and suddenly, my unborn child took precedence in all family conversations.

-rose, you know babies born to old mothers have problems. 

-rose, do you and bobby realize you’ll be ancient when that baby graduates, if it does graduate.  those kind of babies are always wrong in the head, bless their hearts.

rose this, rose that.  i heard it all...concerns spoken and whispered among them, jokes made at my expense, the back thumping the men gave bobby, as if he was the one who would bear this child.

my own children looked upon their father and i as some aberration, surprised we still had sex.  i could tell when i walked in on them holding one of those kinds of discussions.  mouths quickly closed in faces shaded with distaste. often i wanted to say to them, if you think the idea of your momma and daddy being together is something that makes you shudder, just you wait until you know your own babies are doing what you had to do to get them.  they’d attempt to meet my eyes, hoping i’d not see them glancing at my belly while they gave forced smiles and uttered words of false happiness.

-how you doin’, momma? why don’t you set down for a bit, rest.  oh, this is such a good time for all of us! we’re so happy for you.  i wanted to say, if you’re happy for me, then i'm a six foot tall blonde from georgia.  instead, i took their pretend happiness and pretended i believed them, which kept the peace.

i was 47 when sudie was born. i’d had my first at 18, already married to bobby for a year.  he was a grade ahead of me in school, we knew his family from church, often meeting them at auctions and county fairs.  i saw his brown eyes, his friendly smile, his ease in dealing with people, and i knew he had potential.  i knew one day, he’d stop being a bobby and become a robert. this was before i discovered that potential is a fantasy, and that it is never, ever an asset....he is bobby to this day.  i gave up on robert long, long ago.

i’d had six other children before sudie.  each of those labors took hours with me holding on to the bedpost by the end, squatting and bearing down, my body tearing as the child was forced out into the waiting hands of the woman attending me.  i knew birth not only from what i’d been through, but also from aiding at the arrivals of the majority of sudie’s 39 cousins. i started as a young girl fetching cold cloths and hot water while murmuring nonsensical words to the mothers, eventually moving to where i had the waiting hands to catch their child.  i’ve held women as they strained to push out this new life, as they struggled to live or die.

i learned that birth often walks hand in hand with death.  hadn’t i held my own sister, ellen, as she lay there, her blood soaking the mattress and the rug next to the bed? hadn’t i held her as she looked over to her son, sighed and closed her eyes?  her breath stopped before the blood did.  it took us an hour to clean the room and lay her out before we let in my brother in law.  his cries of grief mingled with the wails of her hungry baby, creating a song of sorrow that filled the house.  months later, he signed the farm back over to my daddy, and moved away, taking my nephew with him.  we heard they’d settled over in louisiana and that he’d remarried.  i’ve always hoped he and the boy found happiness.

sudie though, sudie was different from the moment i figured out i was with child.  i was never ill, hardly tired, my belly stayed small.  my labor started as a nudge, quickly moving to the pains that told me birth was imminent.  four hours later, she was there, a caul on her face.  my cousin delicately cut it away and put it aside to be saved in my cedar chest. once  it was removed, she started crying in a strong voice.  i know people believe that babies cry with such anger at birth because of the cold on their once protected face.  i always held that god gives babies in the womb all of the knowledge contained in the universe, and with their first breath, that knowledge is erased. their cries are not caused by the moving from the warmth they’ve known, but, in sorrow over the loss of the answers to everything. 

sudie’s eyes moved around the room, as if she could already see details. my cousins and sisters gathered around me, toweling her off, chattering to me and each other--a cacophony of voices.

-oh, rose! she’s the prettiest little thing! wait until you see her.  look! she has your and momma’s red hair.  oh, she’s a stuart, alright.  there ain’t none of her daddy in that face.  lord, lord...this child is gonna turn heads.

they gave her to me then, bundled and bound, only her head showing. i didn’t unwrap her, i knew being swaddled would keep her content just as i knew everything was there; fingers, toes.  i looked into the newborn blue of her eyes...she looked back, turned her head and nuzzled to find my nipple.  for me, that was the bonding time with each of my children, feeling them latch on.  from the moment they drew life from me, i wrapped them in my protection, knowing full well i’d kill for them.  even as they grew, that protection remained. 

a few years before i found myself pregnant with sudie, my newly married middle daughter came to my house one morning, a bruise on her cheek.  she told me her husband had struck her the night before, and she’d punched him, refusing to back down.  i walked across the plowed fields between our houses, never tripping on a single furrow, paying no heed to the scent of new earth and ignoring the worm seeking birds who lined the rows.  i only called that boy’s name once when i reached their yard. he came out slowly, a smirk on his face, a cup of coffee in his hand, already dressed to head out and plant his fields. i could tell he’d not yet understood what was and wasn’t acceptable in our family.  his tone was condescending as he asked me why i was there so early and if i’d like a cup of coffee.  he looked me over, obviously believing i was nothing more than a tiny woman in his yard, one that could be easily controlled. 

his error was in discounting my cold anger and the coiled whip in my hand.

i grew up using whips.  my brothers had thought it fun to tease us girls, chasing us with any number of disgusting things boys find.  i had discovered granddaddy’s whip in the barn, and learned to use it to defend myself, finding power in what i could make it do in my hands.  i started helping daddy drive the herd out of the north pasture, popping my whip over their ears and backs...never touching the skin.  momma said i could take a fly off a fence, and she was right.

we had a productive, albeit one sided, conversation that day, one i’ve never had to repeat.  i started with his hat, taking it off without mussing his hair.  next was the coffee cup.  i moved down his body, snapping that whip at him, tearing the material of his clothing,  while i explained calmly that if he ever (thaaawhack) even (thaaawhack) thought (thaaawhack) of touching my child (thaaawhack) again, I’d start my lesson at his crotch.  bobby always said our children and their spouses are afraid of me, and i said, good--let that fear be their guide.

now, i lie in my bed, feeling that cloak of protectiveness rest on this baby, on my gingerhaired girl who is quiet and asleep in my arms.  the door opened, my own momma came in and stood there, looking at me, at my child.

-well, rose, this one is special, you know that, don’t you?

-yes, momma, i do indeed.

-you named her yet?

-her name’s gonna be susan elizabeth macpearson.  we’ll call her susie. 


-no, momma, s u s i e.

-let me give my blessing to little miss sudie elizabeth. 

i opened my mouth to correct momma again and felt the movement of my daughter as she shifted.  susie? i whispered.  nothing.  sudie?  she grunted approval and sudie she became.

Friday, December 14, 2012

smoke screen

i watch alis across the courtyard
she smokes foreign cigarettes
i know she buys
from that shop on
christopher street.

i see her
peering out her window
that overlooks the common area--
rapt in her examination
of me
of my world,
consumed by the trying
to figure it all out.

on clear days,
she sits in a wicker chair
then tilts it against the wall
to protect the seat from bad weather.
and on those bad weather days,
she stands straight
in the doorway,
hidden in scarves and an ash grey woolen coat,
arm wrapped ‘round her ribs
supporting the weight
of the cigarette in her opposite hand--
long drag
and the smoke drifts out like an

i don't like the days of rain
and snow
when i am confined to the doorway--
as if i were 14
and forced to sneak outside.

in my imagination,
the smoke
carries away her thoughts and ideas
while her mind sifts memories
and dreams.

i watch her
watching me.
her small mouth moving as she talks
to herself.
both of us:


i find it ironic she won't smoke inside--
protecting her possessions from the
dark sweet stench of those gauloise 
while she fills herself
with its toxins and poisons
and the smoke hovers over her
like a halo

she’s knocked on my door
peering inside as she asks me
some question about
the rent
or repairs
or complaints about the guy in
she doesn’t understand
i broke
fell into pieces
let them scatter.
those things upstairs?
to contaminate them is a

she sits and
smokes and
does she filter
letting her pain act as a
nictitating membrane?

i close my eyes
against the brilliance of her
intense regard,
her overwhelming curiosity
her innocent condemnation
of me.

there was one time
i saw it all
there on her face;
past and present and
the knowledge her future
was written in
white on white.
she sat still as regret,
while the cigarette burned

huff to myself
annoyed with
bothered by
the knowledge
is right about
and that
am full of far too many
things best left unsaid and
don't move until
feel the heat on my fingers and
again retreat.

Friday, December 7, 2012


by the time jonny mcphearson’s sister, rose, had given birth to sudi, he was in the middle of his third marriage. from the looks of things, this one was going the same route as the other two--women worn out far too early in life by pregnancies, running a house alone, helping to run a farm. their lives consisted of children, chores, canning, cleaning and cooking. up at 4am, in bed at midnight. even a strong man would eventually be worked to death. jonny didn’t marry strong women--he preferred his wives to be delicate and have the first markings of womanhood upon them. he courted and married girls--even in a time of young marriages, his were frowned upon by many.

he’d go to the city to find a new wife when it became too much to care for all himself, when his sisters and mother told him they had their own to deal with, and it was up to him to take care of his situation. he’d leave for a month or two, leaving his children behind with this sister or that cousin, taking work in a factory, offering himself up as a farm boy yearning to go back home where the air was good and the soil was rich and with the right woman by his side, he’d prosper. he unerringly knew the young girls who didn’t want the life of a factory workers wife, of breathing in the smoke of the mills, knowing their water would never lose its taste of chemicals. they saw the picture he painted with veils over their common sense, and he inevitably found himself with more than one to choose from to become mrs. jonny mcphearson. he tested the financial waters of their various families, and took to wife the one who had an advantageous dowry, even though, as with his second wife, it was nothing more than a house full of furniture. it was far, far better than what he had at home.

the wife picked, the family bedazzled with their daughter’s good fortune--not only a handsome man from a large family whose farms joined his in a circle around the one owned by his parents, but, a good christian man who had come to the city to work, and, with good fortune, found happiness with their little girl. no, they hadn’t planned on her getting married so soon, still, he treated her like a princess and promised she could come home every other month for a weekend. she’d bring back fresh farm milk and eggs and produce, all held in her arms plumped by good food and good air, eyes and skin glowing. he swore he’d not get her with child for a few years, to allow her time to grow into the idea of being a wife, much less a mother. he did not mention he’d been married before, nor did he mention he had children at home, children who were in dire need of everything. he kept this nugget of his life tucked away in his pocket, preferring to have his honeymoon before reality returned.

he’d arrive, usually in the late afternoon, his new bride by his side, she'd be blushing, holding back a bit out of the knowledge all these people knew what the two of them had done the night before, a bit out of fear of the large group gathered, a bit out of confusion when she heard the voices calling out “daddy!” as they ran to her husband, a man she’d thought childless. there was no going back, only steps into a future exactly like the one she’d hoped to avoid--married young, burdened with children and a house and the knowledge that it would never be more, and more likely be less. she felt the joy of what she’d hoped for in life drop away, felt her shoulders bow under what was to be, felt the knowledge this was going to be the first of many lies from her husband...and she understood her life would never be her own.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

one word~automatic

it’s automatic for me… to wake up, sit on my sofa, sip my coffee, read a bit, then face the rest of the day. it’s automatic for my spouse to talk during this time, nudge me to do some odd chores she thinks need doing and i feel are find left alone. i have my agenda–and she has one for me. the twain do not meet.

so, i changed my agenda a bit. now, when i’m sitting sipping reading, if she forgets that change, and falls back on giving me her version of my day, it’s automatic for me to back hand her across the face. i’ve found it makes my life far more enjoyable in a variety of ways.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Word~Scarves

the idea of scarves had never crossed her mind in the past.  she'd seen them, crayon shades on display on vendors tables in every corner of the city.  cashmere, cotton, sheer fabric, long, short--each kind was represented and shilled by men with strange accents, willing to bargain a little if the day was right.

scarves filled a drawer in her dresser now.  they covered her bald head, her thin shoulders--draped and tied to hide the worse of the disease and it's equally horrific cure.  she was glad for them, for the warmth, the rich colors--the sense of beauty she sought in a world of needles, therapeutic poisons and pain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

FlashDrive Online

Walter Conley has put out another ezine full of amazing photography to go along with the short pieces from writers I admire more than I can say.

Have a look.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One Word~Success

She’d had a life long relationship with food and its colors--it defined her moods, her place in the world, her status with life.  Joy was something covered in was a taste of which she’d never grown fond.  Golden roasted chicken, cooked long and slow, surrounded by bright green vegetables served on a deep blue plate heralded a time of prosperity and luck.  Ah, but, it was the foods in the white palette that gave her creative success in cooking, its shades comforting and familiar.  She'd awake deep in the night,  finding her way around the kitchen by the light of the gas ring on the stove....she knew proportions by heart, never hesitating as she moved to boil and stir and bake.  Bowls of cream of wheat, varieties of rice in main dishes or deserts, tapioca pudding, grits topped with an egg....oh, and potatoes! Potatoes boiled then smashed with the skins still on, potatoes scalloped with thick cream...potatoes baked until they burst, rich with sour cream and swiss cheese; each of these helped hold off the black.

She seldom thought back to the hours she’d spent as a child, made to kneel on raw rice or grains, for transgressions real and imagined.  The memories surfaced when she’d absently scratch a rough patch on her knee, and find a small grain of rice or a bit of corn meal had worked it’s way to the surface--she put them aside, in a special jar, planning the pudding she’d make one day....using those pieces, sugar, cream and hate.