Sting

For James Ward Lee

play audio –Sting

              Sometime

    the smell of lemon

        on my hands

reminds me of my father

     and of being home

  for the last time

the swollen acrid smell

     of lemons

   and the remembered yellow skin

 with its pimples gone awry

           dotting the landscape and

       chasing the perfect oval

     hull

 covering all that is possible

    to cover

        in that seasonal lifetime

   of a lemon

 dotting the rise and sloping fall

     of a hull:

   Yellow to yellow-dotted black  aromatic pore

         seeping out the blinding

      mellow

    quick, sharp breaths

of this lemon life

      a season of smelling

and tarting the tastes of things:

    water into thirst quinching ‘ades

              fish from bland sea palate

          into  a chasing, feverish rush

  of once fighting muscle

       pulling tightly against the line

       making this plate

    of bones and baked flesh

     again                                                                                             

 worth the swollen chest

       of its being here

  lemon

 the squeaky run of its juice

     of my hands

          fingers

   chasing tightly into the

smallest cut

          into the hell of broken flesh

     into the naked wounds

of being

          home

     for the last time

Home Home Home

    sometimes

  the worst of the four lettered

          words

    Home

for the last time

     with my father’s breath

   packed and ready to go

leaving his heaving

      hairy chest

    beneath his sweat soaked

         death shirt

     home

like his last words

     “lemonade” & “son”

         home

   running over me

    there–

         here–

with these lemons

bursting under my grip

spilling

    exploding                                                                                        

    crying the hot juice

  of giving in

     like my father

    who

wanted lemonade

      as his last

    throat quinching drink

    So he asked me

           to make it

   and now

      the smell of lemon

                  on my hands

    will mean

always

    that his throat is dry

  in a room

that’s just a sting

    and a step away

.

.

.

.Copyright Jas Mardis 1999 Awarded the Voertman Poetry Award and published in Our Texas anthology , Center For Texas Studies @ University of North Texas Press, Denton, TX.

Drops Like Rain

(Drops Like Rain audio)

In the rain
what will be remembered of your face
does not blur so easily

and I see so clearly

the wonderful, seasonal, leaf-brown shading of your eyes
piercing thru the large pane of shop glass
as you jump the space between awnings trying not to get wet

I see you remembering to smile   then scrunching your face when
an already couple bumps into you  and
just like that
you slide back into the weather and your hair drinks what drips
from the beast that has become this night’s sky

From this booth    I cannot save you
not even in my manliest imagination
not even in the best years of my  faster  boyhood
not even     not hardly      no way

so,
when you do not  fall into the drink
but instead bend at the knees and waist
and waggle your hips into a brake

the sound that comes from me    does not match my facade

Every  day
since first looking into the falling stream that was your face
watching helplessly    you
slipping and grinding and stopping yourself in the rain

the way you held on    stood pat     hung in there
never minding the fools behind with their outstretched, dry hands and apologies
instead,   shaking it off  and finding me in that deliberate, slow turn
of your drenched face   dry   inside  at a booth      then winking

it is hard to image how I will stop myself from falling for you
like fat drops of April rain

my fingers
down thru your head’s  drenched curls
across the wet waving line of your brow
racing in  swirls        over the bridge  of your nose
rimming silver slivers ’round your flared nostrils
before landing and lacing    and beading into the grace on your full lips

I am already learning to love the way that you hold your mouth
already slipping
already being pushed by wanting what these other couples have
are willing to race thru full streets
clearing pathways   and already full spaces beneath awnings
where some other not-yet-loved fool
is trying not
to get this wonderfully wet

.

.

.

.

Jas. Mardis    4/2015
(14ioiws)

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry and Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press).

Sharing, Like It’s Going Out of Style

One year, when we were still a family living in the white frame house on Morrell Street in Dallas, Texas, we ate beans and rice or collard greens nearly every day. Later that year, while out for Christmas break, we got used to inviting some new kids in with us for dinner. Of course, we were used to the food by then, but it was the first time that I had heard and got a different understanding of the phrase, “Like they going out of style“.

There were five kids in our family and we dared not flinch when those words came across the sparse dinner table from my brother’s invited friend, a boy called “Meatball”. He was squat, dark-hued, round with a bushel of uncombed hair and gave off the suggested shape of a big, well, meat ball. His rather large family was new to a duplex further down the hill that was Morrell Street. Even in the colder months most of them spilled out onto the porch and yard during non-sleeping hours. Up and down that block all of our families were just making due, but even our construction-job injured Stepfather had encouraged us to invite and share with the kids whenever possible.

Meatball didn’t bother looking up from his fast moving spoon through a bowl of crumbled cornbread and black-eyed peas. Even though he had used the bathroom sink to clean up it was not hard to find patches of differing colored dirt streaking his scrawny, short sleeved arm and pointy elbow as he ate. We had already prayed, passed the cornbread and Kool-Aid. Now, we waited on a spoon of steaming collard greens from a big, worn pot that sat at one end of the table when he blurted up, “Ya’ll eat beans like they going out of style!”.

We just kept passing our plates from one person to the next and waited for them to return with a layered serving of meatless collard greens. Secretly, we all hoped for one of the bacon or salt jowl halves that seasoned the greens, but that succulent meat often landed on our Stepfather’s plate. Meatball did not pass his plate. He continued to feast on the certainty of his beans and dodged the long arms that reached, grabbed and ignored his sloppy chewing. With all the plates in place our Stepfather called to the little complainer, “Gimme yo’ plate, son“. A moment passed before my brother grabbed and handed off the boy’s crumb-littered plate. Meatball started chewing faster.

For the second time that day neither of us five flinched as Meatball’s plate of hot collards was passed back to him. Mixed into the feathery stack of greens were the two curling halves of thick sliced, red meat and water pearled bacon fat. Again, the pain mellowed bass of our Stepfather’s words wafted toward Meatball, “You reckon dat fatback might be in style, Meatboy?” His mispronunciation kicked a big laugh into the room and nearly everybody corrected him, “It’s MEAT BALL, Mr. Howard“. It was the first time since being injured and returning home from two months of traction in a hospital bed that he smiled big and laughed a full throated guffaw. The bacon slipped in and out of Meatball’s greasy lipped mouth and the room grew brighter with his  addictive and toothy grin.

It would be a few more months of beans and greens and visits from Meatball and others hoping for the fatback on their plates, but never from us five.  Big laughs came slowly back into the white house at 1423 Morrell after the “meat boy” meal. There was new job with less pain and risk of injury for our slow moving Mr. Howard. Around the same time there was Christmas and five thunderous, overflowing, cellophane covered fruit baskets with hard, awkward nuts and candy canes with a single wrapped present. It all got shared on our screened-in porch, along with other toys from up and down Morrell Street…and the echoing, baritone laughter from just inside the door.

Jas. C. Mardis is a Poet, Quilter and Storyteller. He is a 2014 Inductee into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Photo credit:   Rosskam, Edwin, 1903-,  Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection 1938