Five Poems by Jessica Hammack
Crowning Miss Sterling Faucet, 1963
Pastoral: Tucker County, West Virginia
The highway winds like sutures
through the mountains,
holding in what wants to run away.
After monotone reports
of mine shifts and hunting accidents,
the radio predicts rain. Last week,
a hiker died in Shavers Fork;
The landscape is a layercake
of escape routes:
highway, trailer, river, train.
The leaves release themselves from branches.
I huck my raft downriver.
The river hucks me back.
Monongalia County, West Virginia
They open the dam, and the trash just sort of flows,
is what I explained
to the horrified four-top
as I cleared course two of their prix fixe
(salmon tartare, Beaujolais)
as Mountain Dew bottle
after Mountain Dew bottle,
crowned by six-pack yokes and spume,
bobbed beneath their Cole Haans
down the Monongahela River.
I didn’t take this job to be an ambassador
for Monongalia County, a county
who couldn’t be bothered
to learn how to spell its own name.
I didn’t ask to be the face
of this row of faux rustic tavernas.
I didn’t ask to be born,
or to be a waitress, or to be so good
at diplomatically explaining failure
that my co-workers started wondering
how I did it, how I just ate shit, repeatedly,
with a helpful smile like–
our sous chef is wasted and your meal is aflame,
here’s a cocktail, on me; can I get you anything else?—
fully at ease
with the fucked-up-ness of the world.
Learn from your mistakes
is what my mother told me,
though when I, myself, made a mistake
I was always punished,
as if each mistake I made
were the result of some previous mistake
I never learned from,
and I could never quite put my finger
on the First Mistake,
and I started to suspect that perhaps I, myself,
was the first mistake,
though there were so many other mistakes
in the world it was difficult to be sure.
Some days I believed
we were all trying our best,
but mostly I didn’t believe that at all.
Mostly I thought the CEO of the mine
knew exactly what he was doing.
Mostly I thought we hid our badness
behind good intentions,
or maybe our best was terrible.
After work it was Trash Night at Vice,
and drinks were $5, electric blue,
and served in goblets shaped like garbage cans,
and brought around by a troupe
of roving drag queens,
who were so beautiful, and mean,
and who, when you said something stupid,
which you always did,
and always would,
because you, too, were trash,
but so was everybody,
would suck their teeth
and whisper in your ear
aw, & they say God don’t make mistakes.