I got fifty dollars for the Seventies. Ok,
I was probably cheated but it was cash
in my palm. Then they were over—
no stack in the attic, no bonus
for dragging some months along
for forty years. Just the licked
skin of days, the hands and
gestures of hands that grew
so large in art and fiction—
sold them all and after that transaction
was done, I was left with the eighties,
the difference between rolling stock
and what to tip the boatman, between
innocence and what the reavers leave behind.
Mostly we’re a happy country.
It’s in the constitution. We have the right.
Your mother told you that
when you wanted to cry. She said,
“I’ll give you something to cry about,”
So, apparently we smile by fiat.
We invented football for it’s aaahs
and oohs and jolly whoops and bone
crushing and skull fractures and
permanent brain injuries which oddly
may also amuse us
We probably invented that game
so we could laugh in the stands,
so we could get a grin
out of our unwept tears.
We invented Rogan and Groucho
at either end of the big chuckle that
was the last 100 years.
And googly eyes. We invented those.
And Jack Black. Also earlier,
the roller-coaster for shits and giggles,
the Bearded Lady, Siamese twins
and M. Knight Shyamylan
for an underwater scream.
Invent and invent to make ourselves
guffaw, then we concocted a new
kind of government, a grief project,
just to prove how hard we would work
to get past mourning,
to get to a simple American smile.
Thighs and breasts and that low laugh that beguiled and that loud laugh that cleared the room and eyelashes and in this way the whole wide southern summer rushed past without a thought. I regarded everything. I was afraid all the time.
That fall, the Spanish moss hung as usual from the live oaks and cypress in the hot mornings and cool nights. I thought woman thoughts.
That winter, I liked an inside job but joy was in the moments it took to relax. I stretched.
Without reason I began to suppose.
Spring’s cleansing sunlight was not allowed to enter my head which I hardly lifted, fearful to risk misapprehension. Master of the side eye, I saw each article but noticed none.
After a year amid these hand-hewn stones, I was conscious of heather, hibiscus, roof dogs. Those dogs regarded everything deeply. Those dogs thought dog thoughts. Those dogs were fearless.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award for The Mercy of Traffic and this spring, Doubleback Books reprinted her 2008 book, Discount Fireworks, available free at: Doubleback Books. Her website is www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com. Photo by Greg Comnes.