Marvell, Arkansas

The way was measured in units of Haggard, Cash, and Campbell.
Time was gravel ticking underneath the car. Daddy told us,
For the hundredth time, to cut it out back there.
My sister kept crossing the imaginary line
I had traced across the back seat in a dare.
Mother left her smile at home,
Sat with road tar and pedal steel like a stone.

Daddy’s family wandered through their listing old house,
Staring out windows, big hands on bigger hips.
The train track cut straight through like a wound.
On one side the funeral home, their whole life.
Once I walked in on my uncle embalming a body,
“Ring of Fire” playing on his radio.
Mother claimed a chair in their living room, only moved
To eat or go to bed, only spoke when spoken to.
We rode in the funeral home ambulance to get soft serve.

Everyone got older, that’s all we knew about each other.
Mother made up her mind over years. We never went back.
Daddy, his eyes rimmed red, sat in our kitchen,
Eating ice cream out of the carton. “Granddaddy died,”
He said. I searched, felt only embarrassment. All that ice cream.
My uncle died over days in a Little Rock hospital.
I listened to Granny over and over,
The same story about Daddy’s dead sister.
Each time a different ending. A bare bulb burned above her.

There was nothing left, the lawyers said. The creditors took most,
My uncle’s girlfriend the rest. We were, as they say, poured out.
They loved their grandchildren like lost innocence
But saw the adults as mistakes to be endured,
History leveled as flat as the funeral home.
Bad things were imagined, the facts forgotten.
I don’t know where they are buried, where my cousins live.

(First published in slightly different form in Hiram Poetry Review Spring 2023. Thanks to the editors.)

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