I don’t remember how
my grandmother and I
were locked out of our house.
But I do remember
the clammy-handed thunderstorm
that slapped the mountain’s head like a sour old teacher
as we sat on the cherry wood porch,
waiting for the key.
Sheets of rain, mechanical in wetness and whiteness
blew slant-wise onto my grandmother’s perm
with no respect for the awning
and the thunder gripped my insides like gloved fingers.
I told her I was afraid of the lightning
and she nodded and began a story
I knew would last a long time.
I wish I had it on tape.
I wish that because before and after that day
even up to the end
my grandmother swept the floor and bought gifts for her grandchildren
and didn’t talk about her own life.
“This reminds me,” she said,
“of a little boy struck-tid by lightning
when I was a chile.”
I flinched and wondered why my grandmother
was telling me this during a thunderstorm.
“He was hauling wood when the storm come
and where anybody else woulda put it down and run
law no! he just couldn’t bear to, that little booger.
had to finish.
but he lived.”
“His sweet great aunt where raised him,
she died later that year and I do believe, I do believe
it was them Primitive Baptist cousins a hers
took a notion
to have a setting-up with the dead. So up we set!
Me and the little boy we said we rather not see the body
and the open coffin and the bearded cousins strumming mandolin and singing good-bye
and besides it might start stinking
so we set in the corner and covered each other’s eyes with our fingers.”
I asked what became of the little boy.
“Married him,” she said.
“That’s Grandpa?” I asked but she said,
“Naw, the first one I married got runned over by a log truck.
You know for fifty days he couldn’t move except to bat his eyes
and smile hello and good-bye.
After he went home to Jesus I met your grandaddy.
Now let me tell you about that ole buzzard.
See, it was on count of a half-pint of can watermelon rind…”
On and on the story snaked through decades and wars and death and birth
and watermelon rind,
making ancient nonsense into fresh ragged glory
like a washing machine that frays white dresses and tints them red
so they look the way a dress really should; worn.
I knew I could not live without this story
shouting itself anew every morning in my mind.
Not to end my fear, no!
Not to assure me that everything turns out alright in the end
or that everybody gets what she deserves
or some nonsense that I am only a sprinkle on the huge cake of time
because if that’s what my grandmother meant
she would have said so.
I need this story
to pry me out of my small self.