Heading Down

We shouldn’t raise mixed babies
in the South, Kay says as I drive up the crest
of another hill on our way into Kentucky.

The South, where humidity leaves
a sweat mustache, where a truck
with a Confederate flag painted

on the back windshield skitters in front
of us. In its bed, avoiding our eyes,
a boy with blonde hair

split down the middle like a Bible
left open to The Book of Psalms,
his shirtless sunlicked skin

a thin coat for his bones, his clavicles visible.
I want to know who’s driving this raggedy truck.
I want the boy to look at us. I want

to spray paint a black fist over the flag.
I want the truck to find its way
into the ravine. I want to—

stepping on the gas, I pass the truck.
Kay and I turn our heads. The boy smiles
and waves. The man driving doesn’t

turn his head, keeps his eyes on the road. Kay
turns red as she tightens her fingers
into fists. I stare directly at the whites of her eyes.

 

Goodnight Baby

In sleep, I see

my dead mother naked

on the cooling board.

Stopping the incision,

the mortician turns to me and says Never forget.

I am a boy but know

how flesh stiffens,
how voices keep.

*

mound of dirt her body makes

sleep to reach

sleep to reach

sleep to reach

her hand

*

Cemetery hills, red maple, red

dogwood, red bud tree, weeping cherry.

We’re gas poured then burned to smoke.

*

Her breasts, why do I remember?
                    Men in white ripped the blouse from her chest.

*

if the sound of the wind
if I don’t smile at the Pacific
if I become a stone

*

I wore a choke-chain for years,
hoping she would pull.

*

Jesus and myself high above it all. God nowhere

like Mother. God nowhere

the day she died, the day Jesus died. Her here

but gone. God nameless. Her not Mama or Debbie,

nameless. Now her headstone.

Her name written there. I read it aloud.

She won’t answer.

It’s Mother’s Day, the air thick. I want to believe

it is wet from her spit, from her mouth yelling my name.

When I was born, she called me Baby. The night

before she died, she said: Goodnight baby.

*

She could read stones like faces.

*

She died at 34.

                           I’m 30.

What used to be flakes off like dry skin.

There was a time when there was no difference
between dandelions and daisies,

red and blue blood vessels,
crucifix and t.

*

gone

her body

only milk and roaches

big-horned roaches

not my body

red milk and waiting water.

 

Douglas Manuel received a BA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and an MFA from Butler University where he was managing editor of Booth a Journal. He is currently a Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Many Mountains Moving, Thoughtsmith, and Punchnel’s.

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