Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who has published over 120 poems in a variety of books, journals and anthologies. Her full-length collection, What Came Before, was named Alabama State Poetry Society's Book of the Year and earned a 2008 Independent Publisher's (IPPY) Award. Her novel, Leaving Gee’s Bend, is forthcoming from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2010. She is Poetry Editor for Birmingham Arts Journal.
Jolene Teaches Dolly the Definition of Faithful
Lord knows I meant to take your man.
I tried all the tricks: skirts riding
my thighs, four-inch heels, one of them
peekaboo blouses that don’t show
a thing until I flip my hair back
just so…I even touched him once,
like it was some kind of promise.
Your man, he pulled back faster than
gunshot. Ever since then he stands
in Velma’s line to cash his check,
won’t even nod his head when I
say hello. Honey, I couldn‘t
take him away if you set him
in my lap and said he‘s all yours.
Dear Brother and Becky,
One year gone and now you’re asking
what me and Billy Joe threw off
the old Tallahatchie Bridge? Look,
Brother. He wanted me to run
away with him, leave Choctaw Ridge
for good. I wasn’t ready then
but now Papa’s gone and you’re gone
and Mama don’t bake pies or boil
blackeyed peas. So I’m done dropping
flowers, Brother. I’m coming to
Tupelo to work in your store.
You can’t say no. Billy Joe may
not have had a lick of sense, but
Brother, I do.
The garden is closing
down. The sunflowers
now stoop, their faces
pinched by insistent crows.
The last of the tomatoes hide
in weary vines, their cheeks
hard and drained of color.
The squash too has worked
its last shift -- browning leaves
shout orders, but blossoms
refuse to bear fruit.
So we gather the remains
in a pot, let the simmering
juices dance and rejoice.