Robert McDuff

My mayonnaise and white bread mama sews in the den
under pictures of grandkids and shelves of tacky
dime store knickknacks. She talks to herself.
She piddles in the kitchen, thinking out loud
about the black-eyed peas. She catalogues her lunch
into the telephone and talks about my turnip aunt
whose half-crazy husband whispers in the rest home.

I went out in the night once with my mother
to bail my Pall Mall uncle out of jail
for sousing himself with three warm beers at the V.F.W.
Back home, he lollygagged about the house and rolled
his cigs up in his sleeves and bragged about the war.
He paced the plastic runners on the carpet
till he calmed enough to stand still in the corner
like a scolded child.

My collard green cousin, drunk in Arkansas, called
to say the usual slurring words of love. His wife
drawled in the background till he stammered and hung up.

But all my uncles and cousins will come back one day
to stand around the quilting frame, say grace above
the cranberry sauce, sing hymns beside the butter beans.

And my fat pound cake aunts will share the awful stories
of my Alzheimer's uncle who's a vegetable, how he lolls
and loiters like an ornament that some old lady made
to hang around the house, a decorated hat with ribbons.
And their saccharine mouths will not melt sugar.

Oh, my corn bread and buttermilk brothers, come
to the swimming hole where we'll wallow in the shallows
like hounds.

And, Oh, my souse meat sisters, listen to my fatback call.
When the roll is called down yonder, y'all be there.

Copyright CrossConnect, Inc. 1996