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For Our Grandmothers
All of them, who clutched their pocketbooks, who hid the money
for the light bill in the Bible, who counted, counted, and recounted
stacks of towels. For our grandmothers who stored the white wax
of bacon grease in a coffee can, who tossed table salt over their shoulders,
who had rules about stepping under ladders, eating supper's last
biscuit, and the acceptable distance hemmed up from a girl's knee.
For our grandmothers who would not let us call her grandmother, who wanted
to be called anything but grandma, for they were too young to be a mother
when they became mothers, and then? You.
For our grandmothers who made us pick our own switch, who cooled
hot coffee on a saucer, then sipped from its chipped edge.
For our grandmothers who would not call a cicada a cicada but a locust,
a thirteen-year plague of them, making an apocalypse of June, for grandmothers who
considered a tabby not a cat but a tail-switch hex that would slip under your bedroom door,
take your breath from you, then smother the baby in its sleep.
For our grandmothers who taught there's a right way and a wrong way-
right is right, wrong's wrong-ain't no sense in between. For grandmothers
who emptied their husband's fish-gut buckets and bore enough children to run
out of names. For my grandmother, who snatched me from the nurse and wrapped me
in her tea-length mink coat. It was cold, almost spring, and though I was bruise yellow
with jaundice, she took us out of that hospital, settling her youngest daughter,
a teenage mother, careful in the back. With no shoulder belts or infant seats or air bags,
it was simple: she held me up front for my first ride, she turned the key.
We were on our way, she took us
is what her mama called it. But what I want is a word for the year she bled
freely, a wad of old washrags, each end pinned to a belt around her waist,
a word for twelve happy deaths, each unfertilized cell that washed out
saying, Not yet, Fanny, you still just a child yourself, because this world knows
a girl of fourteen's too old to be playing Cowboys and Indians but also knows
how young she was when, stiff red feather in her hair, she scrambled inside hollering
Mama, come quick, I'm bout to bleed to death. A word for the year she learned to walk
in red shoes pulled from some rich lady's trash, the sound of those heels down the hall
two guns cocking with quick clicks, a sound to hide from her daddy in the morning
eating his breakfast of milk and cornpone with a spoon. A word for the time before
a man swaggered in, bought her a dime-store coke, bought her very first bra, then took her
to the picture show to see a cartoon with dwarves impossibly happy to be working the mines.
A year later, she was expecting-though what exactly I was expecting, she told me,
I couldn't have said. A word, please, somebody give me, for that season with her uterus
small and tight as an inedible green pear, her body keening and cramped in its stall.
A word for all things not yet stretched to bits, a word for all things not yet broken,
a word for all things left unbroken, a word for breakable yet unbroken things,
a word for unbroken, expectant things. Tell me, what is that word?
Fanny Linguistics: Malapropisms
A language is a dialect with an army and navy.
Unpack chester drawers to find
chest of drawers,
Tandalon to Tylenol,
furelle to foil,
gazebo pills to placebo,
salmonella candles to citronella,
and when the cousin who shoots frogs out of trees with a pellet gun
graduates first in class,
congratulate him not for being Valedictorian
but for being Crowned Victoria.
Never drop the friendly s in anyways,
and when Monroe belts out
“In The Pines” at full vibrato
from the roof, he’ll stop his hammering
long enough to yell down
for rim-rams and tim-tams. Best always do what your grandfather says,
don’t come back
from the hardware store without them
even if not one soul—not clerk or handyman or contractor—
knows what the hell he wants you to buy.
Not a family for quiet things, the silent
varmint traps, bad mayo barfed up
with the toe-main poisoning,
running hot and cold with a full-on case of
the walking new monayah you’ll bout never recover from.
It’s like that snotty b in subtlety—
that sorority chick—her tennis skirt, the white snake
of her ponytail hissing back and forth
to remind you:
you’ll always lose the game, and despite all it,
his money never was good enough—
your daddy never could get in the club.
So rarely one for airs, we swung
the racket like a bat, aimed the ball
for the familiar hills to answer her plain:
Fuck suttle then.
-from Fanny Says
BIO: Nickole Brown grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and Deerfield Beach, Florida. Her books include Fanny Says, a collection of poems forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2015; her debut, Sister, a novel-in-poems published by Red Hen Press in 2007; and an anthology, Air Fare, that she co-edited with Judith Taylor. She graduated from The Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She worked at the independent, literary press, Sarabande Books, for ten years, and she was the National Publicity Consultant for Arktoi Books and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. She has taught creative writing at the University of Louisville and Bellarmine University. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry at White Pine Press and is on faculty every summer at the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference and at the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State. She is an Assistant Professor at University of Arkansas at Little Rock and lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.