Reeling: A Louisville Reflection
It’s eight-fifty for a lox bagel at Nancy’s on Frankfort Avenue, caddy-corner
to the train tracks. People walk their dogs and babies by.
Nancy’s has slick pine tables and
my hands smell like fish all day.
Tomatoes have disappointed
since my great-grandfather died and stopped bringing us plants
each April, stems
covered with soft, fine fibers, roots bound in discrete plastic rectangles.
I had a slick purple windbreaker when I was small-small –
still blowing my nose on my father’s long sleeves
and patting down damp soil with splayed fingers.
My father’s tomatoes are dense,
heavy green rinds never seeming to turn
until they do at once, tables full, too many
to eat before they rot.
He has them on white bread with mayonnaise,
salt, and pepper.
Nancy’s only plays local radio.
It’s mostly folk music between commercials
for little punk shows
where little punk boys
make love by throwing elbows.
A bit over a year ago, in a basement with seven-foot clearance
and one exit,
I was held against a speaker for twenty minutes
by some tall, gangly stranger, kept
safe while men threw themselves together and a-
part, hoping to make blood bloom like
great swamp lilies flexing endlessly across a watery surface.
Every child should go fishing once
to grope slick-sharp scales with stroking fingers
while deciding if this thing should live or die.
I tried to be a vegetarian when I was nineteen
and still feel pangs of guilt for meat
eating, but fish test my empathy’s limits,
these large-eyed organisms with the singular goal
Meghan and I sat outside this shop
one rare weekend morning we shared,
which I remember solely
by the tension between us.
She only drinks orange juice
when she eats a salt bagel with veggie cream cheese and I don’t know
when I will forget this fact,
and all the facts, about her – which is not to say
I want to wipe my memory of her entirely
but I want
to un-remember the skin inside her bicep
where she had a pink lotus flower rendered large, full
sleeves feminine enough to shock
on a dyke so small and fierce and proud.
Here, they serve coffee the size of your head
in porcelain bowls.
Meghan put cream in hers, which I thought weak –
she was weak, unable to initiate a divorce
without me as an excuse. I make it
too strong, jet fuel, motor oil, tar black.
I always think of my grandmother
when I say tar black. Maybe it was her dark hair
(Sicilian) pooling on the kitchen floor
maybe the cancer deep in her brain
dark resin oozing from the tumor’s core
and me the worst secret keeper,
spilling them like
coins from dropped purses, tin cans pulled
behind Just Married cars,
small fish slipping
through my netted fingers –
as if to say witness!
all I could make known.
I got confused and dreamt that the day my great-grandfather died was also the day he tumbled into a thicket of blackberry brambled behind the falling-down chicken coop on Jimmy Hill’s property line. It’s wrong, the dream, because he died in winter. But he came to our house with half-healed scratches on his palms and forearms dark with some July’s sun. He said he had put rubbing alcohol on the worst of them, and we were glad he wore long trousers year-round so his legs were protected. He had to have been over eighty years old by then.
I got confused and though he had come to my high school graduation, but he was dead by then, or else he would have. I know that much. He and Jimmy Hill used to rent their land out together, over one hundred acres, and cows would roam around the little edge piece where our house sat. Sometimes calves would become separated from their mothers. Late, they would congregate on either side of our property, only one hundred feet apart but separated by a mile of fencerow, and bleat and bleat from one side of us to the other, believing they would never see each other again.
this is how two women have sex
she is gas stove
I am chrysanthemum
in nearby vase
this is to say
she ignites /stays on indefinitely/
& we have nothing in common
I thought I might stay here with her /shedding light/
but she is indifferent & infinite
I once told her
we would sustain each other,
as if fire could give me anything
I threw out red, orange,
please love me, please
look at me /once/ with adoration
Emily Blair is Punch Drunk Press’s third Featured Woman Writer this October. She is an Appalachian poet living and teaching English in central North Carolina. Her work can be found in Vagabond City, Spry Literary Magazine, The Fem Lit Magazine, and Crab Fat Magazine, among others. She currently serves on the editorial teams at Rabble Lit, a working class literary magazine, and Screen Door Review, a project focused on queer Southern art and writing.