Corralled in Mama’s car for church,
scratch paper in our pockets
for a showdown of Hangman
with my brother,
the fragrance of Juicy Fruit wafts
out from her open pocketbook,
a bribe for our silence.
While we’re gone, Daddy watches westerns
in his boxer shorts, Frito crumbs
on the coffee table when we get home.
“How’s church?’ he’d ask,
then ignore the answer,
listening for the the pow pow pow
of gunpowder, dust rising in the road
while the townsfolk peeked
out from behind curtains.
I knew without asking who the bad guy was,
a varmint with a five-o-clock shadow
who rode into town on a stolen horse
drunk on whiskey, overturning poker tables
in every saloon in his path.
Standing on the other side of the road,
the shined-up sheriff in a bolo tie,
serving justice for the bank robbery
that made a young woman a widow.
It was clear back then
who was right and who was wrong.
They stood face-to-face,
ten paces apart,
waiting for the other one to draw.
Deep inside my father’s high school yearbook
where he penciled horns on a teacher’s head
and thought-bubbles above
rows of black & white faces,
I find a folded piece of paper
and behold a bloom of blotted lipstick,
cherry lips, ruby lips
Love, J.J. scrawled in cursive on the back.
I trace the crimson bow of her mouth with my finger,
a relic from Center Hill High School 1953,
its heart-shaped glory in my hand
like it was once in my father’s hand,
a wine-dark stain that never faded
by lips uncreased by cigarettes
and not yet kissed by a man with whiskey on his breath.
By now she may be buried
like my father,
her earthly belongings—
letters, bobby pins,
the dried up remains of Evening in Paris—
inside a cardboard box headed for Goodwill.
But the smudge her lips made
still bloom on this page, alive
as the day she gave them to him
and now are mine.
At Coyote Mexican
“Where’s your son?” the waiter asks,
his accent so strong I say, “What?”
“Your son…” he restates, and I’m taken aback
by the friendliness of his question,
since for all the years I’ve been coming here,
twenty, at least, he projects a stoic disregard
men sometimes embody,
like they’ve never seen you before.
“He’s grown now,” I say, as if that answers
why he isn’t here, why
I’ve come alone with my book.
I don’t say I’ve moved away,
that I‘m visiting now
and came because I was craving their salsa.
When my husband was alive,
we’d come here every Friday night
to drink Tecates and lime,
order two number fourteens,
while our son in his high chair
was hard at work crushing chips on his tray,
making such a mess we’d always tip extra.
Then suddenly, it was just me
and my son,Tecates, no mas,
through grade school, middle school, high school,
college, he was our waiter,
middle-age then, and older now, though somehow timeless,
like this place his son now manages.
“What to drink?” he asks, with a look so sure
I’ll say, “agua” like I always do,
but this time I say, “Tecates, por favor”
and he smiles, walks away to put in my order.
About the Author
Lynn Alexander is founding staff member of Poetry Atlanta, serving as Newsletter Editor for twenty years before joining the Atlanta Review as Managing Editor. She has two poetry chapbooks, Hanging Clothes at Midnight and Man Done Gone and is currently working on a memoir, Mama’s Got Her Gun.