Joe Cottonwood | Southern Exposure, 1968, and more

Southern Exposure, 1968

I know the South, warn her
but she wants to see Mardi Gras
and I love her madly.

Jackson, Mississippi, has
colored restrooms unmarked
because illegal,
watched by a rooster man,
cap of orange, neck of red
shouting, poking fingers in my chest
scared by my beard, her beads.
She pulls me back on the bus.
Peace, she says. Peace.
Which saves a lot of grief.

Beyond Baton Rouge
a greasy white man in a banker’s vest
beckons a little black girl:
Come sit on my knee.
She’s scared. She goes.
He says she’s a precious peony
which he grows for the fragrant flower
as he bounces her deep into his lap.
He squeezes her ribs with his fat hands
saying he wants to take her home
and plant her in his best soil of the Delta.
All the while the girl’s mother sits across the aisle
lips grim, eyes a narrow flame.
Every passenger’s lip, grim.
Every eye, flame.
In the weird dynamic of the South in 1968
the whole bus simmers on the verge of explosion.
No peace, says my love rising. No peace with that.
The driver slams to a stop, says: Off.
Us? we say.
Yeah you, he says. Get off, hippies.

By the side of a swamp she sobs.
Hold me, she says. Just hold me.
We walk a mile.
A shack is selling fried frog legs.
As we stand by the road with greasy thumbs
a woman stops with a Plymouth full of pups.
One licks our fingers, instant bond.

The Greyhound driver likes puppies, lets her ride
on our laps to Saint Lou.
A practice child, then nanny to our kids.
Here, meet Nola the collie,
a great dame, a river dog.
Peace, she barks, peace
with a Cajun accent,
which means I’m watching you
so don’t mess with the kids,
then with a warm tongue
she licks your hand.

***

The Phallus Fairy

There. On the sidewalk. Limp, dusty, pink.
Should I pick it up?
Was there a horrible accident?
An encounter with a hedge clipper?
Should I just hang on — finders, keepers?
It might be useful sewn to my briefcase as a handle.
At the police station lost and found,
the sergeant is busy jailing a black kid.
He gestures for me to put it in the file cabinet,
drawer 2-P,
which is full of unclaimed phalli.
All pale. Old. Smelly.
Yeah, he says, it’s an epidemic. Or a crime spree.
I heard on Fox News it’s Obama’s fault.
I say maybe the Phallus Fairy sprinkled her magic dust.
The sergeant says a few fair ladies have come by
complaining their man has lost one,
but always the dude will deny
and the ladies can’t identify
so never mind, on second thought
they’d rather not.
Sounds like a nuisance, I say.
Yeah, he says, must be the damn fairy.

***

In Step

New boy, old shoes,
seems to know how.
Girl studies, furrowed brow.
“Would you show me? “
He grins.
“You bet.”

Brown girl, white boy
share soccer tricks
(fakes, spin kicks)
like tango steps
on the grassy field.

Lips clenched, Tania pauses
to repair beaded braids.
Tight shorts, mighty thighs,
her body a dark diamond
centered in the hips.

Tony smiles lots, curly red hair,
his head a pumpkin
on a pale post.

Nimble feet
for the ball compete,
their only touch.

After one-on-one,
three laps they run
side by side, chatting, unaware
they are perfectly aligned
in rise and fall of
knee to knee,
right to right,
cleat to cleat,
left to left.

Walking to the street, Tony chats,
Tania listens cradling ball to her chest
as they wander in synchrony,
step to step,
breath to breath,
making a start
heart to heart.

***

old bronze

your cheek, so brown
old bronze
brushed with down
shekels of freckles
over a dusky moon

bronze the alloy
forged in heat
shaped in art

like stone, endures
with age, darkens
when rubbed, glows

still warm
against my lips

***

rainbow woman

look closely: pentimento
through the film of flesh
throbs of pastel
flushes of pink
veins of blue

freckles, dark stars of
genetic memory
from ancient root

as if sand of the river
across thigh
across chest
tiny grains, wet
sparkle in sunlight

blooms of the body
blush with life
woman, why do they call
you white?

JoeCottonwoodWorkshop croppedJoe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life. Nights, he writes. His most recent book is 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses. He lives with his high school sweetheart in a house he built in La Honda, California. This is his second batch of poems to be published on The MOON. joecottonwood.com

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