Shackled to that name, by fifteen
she knew the rest the stars dished out
would stack up equal: a mother-in-law
who cooked forty years for the railroad,
raising eight perfect kids to boot. And Joe,
shot dead in the grocery story that Friday night
late August, figuring receipts.
Go to Ten Mile Creek. Look there
for what she was, mud-trailing skirts
in her daily crash through woods,
racketing trees with a peeled stick,
mouthing the words she chewed on each day
of her life to suck the bitter out – same as
the creek hid under its breath, lugging rain
to the long brown thirst of the Arkansas.
Even Joe – sweeping, marking tins – knew
how poetry can settle young on a girl
who labeled herself cashed-in ugly
each time she had to sign a check.
Take the turnpike east out of Tyler
where Ten Mile still runs cold
past Kissy Rock, then follow on foot
to where it eddies and stalls, twisting
back on itself to lap at the roots
of the giant sycamore, sucking out
the footings, the underpinnings,
not stopping until the whole white body
drops into its mouth at last. Do you see
how the tree leans back and away, pulling
at its roots the way a woman would
who recognizes the unlucky label
of her name on the underside of love
and knows she has to get away, but can’t?
Here Otma Rood must have walked
and stopped to lean. And maybe it was here
she saw it. A bird? Who can tell.
A dive of color then a swoop. Or make
it night, late August, when the wild sky,
risking theft, unhinges all its fire.
And she, widow now and womb pregnant
with the only shot at freedom
she would ever have to give a name to –
Juanita. Proxy. Shooting star.