Peggy Douglas is on the Board of Directors for the Knoxville Writers Guild and is coordinator of the Guild’s Poetry Workshop. Her work has appeared in the Kakalak Anthology of Carolina Poets; Bleeding Heart Anthology of the Knoxville Writer's Guild; the University of Maine’s Binnacle Poetry Journal; Maypop: the Tennessee Writers Alliance Journal; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; The Light of Ordinary Things Anthology by Fearless Books; Chantarelle’s Notebook, and Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.
I heard my Daddy had a slight build
when he married Mama and a tuft of red
hair on the nape of his neck that could reach
below his shoulders if he was so inclined.
But he preferred to comb and tease it
over his brow like a rooster's comb. Whenever
I asked Mama to tell his story, she just said
Yesterday, Mama sliced apples into enamel
dishpans while I dipped Kerr-Mason jars
in scalding, soapy water. It took a child’s hand
for that and for cleaning foul chicken houses
seven days a week but I didn’t mind.
It was better than tending Mama’s looming
tears that threatened to well up and burst loose,
drowning anyone in sight. I glanced at her
singing Nearer, my God, to Thee and decided
not to ask anymore, but a pint-sized punk
who became a rooster deserved a story.
So I made one up.
My Daddy died the day I was born
but I’ve forgiven him for that.
Life’s too sad to wear cheap mascara.
Once a week, Mama divorced herself
from the print housedress, unlaced Keds,
hair tied back with a plain rubber band.
It could all disappear with the paints
and polishes in four mysterious dressing
table drawers and a three-way mirror.
I watched her slip on the sheer nylons
and black high heels, before reaching
into the depths where little white jars
with pink tops and tiny roses harmonized
with high-domed boxes of face powder
that blew Heaven Scent across the room
when she cracked the lid and pearl-covered
compacts that snapped shut with a glamorous
When her canvas was covered, she draped it
with a simple black shift and disappeared
without a word of her goings-on. I imagined
she was meeting a brown-eyed handsome man
in the Green Room of a downtown hotel,
sipping fine wine over titillating chitchat.
Years later, I learned she carried herself
to the movies those nights, leaving me
to wrestle with it all, pleased she found
romance and jealous at the same time —
of what, I still can’t say.
When the winds died and temperatures tipped
one-hundred degrees, curtains were flung
wide open. Inside downtown cafes,
Coke water rested in uncollected tumblers,
businessmen took up afternoon napping
behind closed doors, and secretaries tiptoed
in stocking feet along linoleum floors
for any reason to create a breeze.
In the magnolia-shaded houses, silver-spooned
white women reclined in upholstered loungers
browsing Sears mail order catalogs as black
women finally took a seat at ironing boards
and leftover meatloaf to watch the Lowell families
create havoc on As the World Turns.
On the farms, Wonder Bread families shelled
peas and shucked corn on sultry front porches
while pockmarked fields bloomed litter and weeds.
Summer vacationers, bound on long, hot daydreams
to Florida, zoomed past our windows, spinning
the day over and over, until it finally settled
exactly where it began.