I Need The Story

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

next door

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.”

I blinked.

“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.


This poem is about: 
My family


Need to talk?

If you ever need help or support, we trust CrisisTextline.org for people dealing with depression. Text HOME to 741741