I have long legs and big feet, and I wear cowboy boots. So when my flight left LaGuardia, Delta terminal, at 6:45 am, I was in first class because I had to have some place to put my legs. The narrow coach seats aren’t a problem—I’m sort of bony, but my legs, just like the pioneers, need room to spread out. I picked an aisle seat so I could get to the bathroom easily, and I took along a Larry Brown novel to prepare myself for the trip home. It had been a long time since I’d been in the South, and I needed a refresher course.
After I’d stored my backpack, a blonde cliché sat beside me-a pretty, young woman, very neat, personable, power suit, Blackberry. Her hair was cut in a crop, and she wore tortoise-shell glasses.
“Excuse me,” she said as she tried to hurdle my legs. She ended up spread-eagled over my lap.
“Don’t think that’ll work,” I said and unfolded myself. “Let’s try it now.”
“… tall,” she said.
I filled in the blanks. “Six-five. And I’ve never played basketball.”
She settled in. “They don’t make planes for people such as you, do they?” She slid her carry-on underneath the seat in front of her.
“Little in this world fits my peculiarities.”
“Excuse me?” She paused, confused.
“Oh, don’t pay me attention. Just thinking aloud.” I felt awkward. I pulled my book from the mesh pouch in front of me. I’ve heard that bringing thick books on the plane keeps people from talking to you I’ve found it makes them want to bother you more.
She tapped me on the arm. “I said, I love your ponytail,”
“I see a few of them that look nice. Maybe it’s the silver streaks in your black hair. It must be the string tie. You have an accent. Are you from Texas?”
She was a challenge: her lips moved quickly, her mouth opened little. “No,” I said deliberately. “I spent some time in Oklahoma.” I held out the string tie to explain. “Few things fascinate me like mother-of-pearl, the way the light turns fluid and flows into different colors,”
“You certainly don’t sound like a cowboy.”
“I’m not.” I remembered how the judge gave me a choice-jail or Job Corps. The judge had slumped over the bench like a bushy black caterpillar. When I asked him would the Corps let me do any painting, he told me I was a strange boy and that he was sure the Job Corps would let me do all the house painting I wanted. I don’t think he understood. Life in the Corps wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as home. The sergeant in charge of civilian workers was nothing compared to my daddy. After four years, I had earned enough to go to NYU. I never went back home.
“You look more like somebody from the Village.”
“You’re an artist, then? Do you have a gallery?”
She must in sales, I thought as she pumped me for my life history.
“No,” I said, looking at my hands spread out on the closed book. My knuckles seemed too big, almost hollow, and my fingers feathered outward, delicate, frail. Woman’s hands, my daddy had always called them. Except for a horny callous on my bird finger, made by holding pencils and brushes too long and too hard, they could’ve been perfect “I just paint.”
“My name’s Cathy.”
“Is this trip business or pleasure?”
“Neither,” I said. “I’m going to a funeral.”
She didn’t say much after that. She spent most of the flight reading a magazine, arid I finished my book.
After my plane landed at Lovell field, I bought a copy of me Daily News to look up my mama’s obituary. It was short.
I rented a Chevy and headed north out of Chattanooga to Monteagle, where the funeral was being held. My mama was from the mountain originally, and it was her fondest wish to be buried there when she left this world.
If you were to write a brief history of my mama’s life, it would read like this. Milly May Stevens was in born in 1937 in Altamont, Tennessee. Her family was large even for those days-seven children. Her mama worked odd jobs-cook, housekeeper, school cafeteria server. Her daddy worked at Southern Railways, but he was gone most of the time, blowing his paycheck on liquor instead of supporting his family.
When she was two, her mama gave birth to twins who were stillborn. She met death face-to-face at an early age. At seven, she started doing most of the work around me house while her mama worked. At nine, she going to work with her mama some.
When she was fourteen, two remarkable things happened-she saw her mama beat her brother with a pick handle for stealing cigarettes, and her daddy gave her, for the first time, a Christmas present: a china doll with silky black hair and pretty blue eyes that rolled into the back of her head. By then, she was too old for dolls. She gave it to her sister Liddy.
A year later, she was married to Clyde Barrow, an older boy who worked with her daddy part-time down at Southern. She didn’t think much of him, nor his courtship. He was steel-cable thin, and he didn’t bring her flowers and candy. It seemed to be her time to move on. She might as well be a mama to her own children. At least they would be hers. They settled in Tracy City.
I—her boy—was born right there at home. Daddy couldn’t find work, and so for years, we hop-scotched our way toward Murfreesboro. There we lived for the first time with running water and power. My two sisters were born in the county hospital while Daddy was at the pool hall. As Mama grew older, she worked less and less. By the time she was thirty, she was bone-weary and felt like she’d worked all her days away. By the time she turned forty, her face, never pretty, was bloated and moon-shaped. Her body had long since decayed. For her fiftieth birthday, she lost a foot to diabetes. She didn’t know she was sick until her toes rotted off. Two years later, she died.
My sister Charlene called me with the news. I told her I didn’t know if I could make it She reminded me again that I’d missed our daddy’s funeral, so I told her I would try.
A week later, the day I arrived, they laid Mama out in Altamont Antioch Baptist Church for all to see. Some of her family hadn’t laid eyes on her in twenty years. I was one of them.
When I left Tennessee, I had honestly thought it was for good. When I was growing up, people always said that Raymond Barrow was a strange bird. I guess I was. As a boy, I liked to draw and build things. Once my mama caught me drawing on my bedroom wall. What she didn’t realize, even after whipping me, was that I’d made a fair copy of a Monet I’d seen the picture on one of her catalogs, and the dots and splotches of color had fascinated me.
I frustrated my teachers at school, too. When my sixth grade teacher brought in popsicle sticks so that we could make cute little Civil War cabins, I copied the Golden Gateway bridge, using up almost half of the sticks. In frustration, the teacher gave me an F and threw the bridge into the dumpster. I punched her, and they expelled me. I guess I shouldn’t have done it, but I had the Barrow temper, and I’d learned from my daddy that the way to solve problems was to hit somebody.
Before my accident, I’d been a decent kid. School didn’t make much sense, and neither did anything else; but when I was ten, my world changed. A series of run-ins with John Law followed. Right before I reached legal age, the judge gave me that option—jail or work for the Job Corps. I took the Job Corps, of course.
On the way up the mountain, I rolled all of this history out, like unpacking boxes I had long ago stored away. Dust and cobwebs had settled on my memories, and I wasn’t sure there was much worth keeping.
When I got to Tracy City, I was surprised that everyone knew me, or had heard of me. At G & W’s Esso Service and Tow, I bought a six-and-a-half-ounce Coke from a pull-out machine and wondered how time had forgotten this place. The old pump-boy filled my tank. I asked directions to the church.
“You must be a going to Milly May’s service,” the hunched man said, a generous wad of snuff between his bottom three teeth and lower lip.
I nodded I was.
“Going myself, in a few minutes.” His face seemed pinched, almost gathered al the ends and drawn tight. “Got to close down, first.” He replaced the pump. “That’ll be seventeen-fifty.”
I hanged him a twenty.
“Yeah, I been knowing Milly since, oh, ’51, ’52, back when her and Clyde was just starling out, just after she had her boy. Lord, ain’t seen him in years.” He leaned in, as if sharing a confidence. “He always was a strange one, that Raymond. Hear tell he run off to some sissy-boy commune in New York.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“If you ask me, it was him and his shenanigans that run her to her grave:’
“I thought it was a stroke. Diabetes related”
“I heard different, if you know what I mean.” He winked and his face seemed to pinch tighter. “By the way, I didn’t get your name?
I got into the rented car and gunned the engine. The Barrow temper had come home with me, I guess. “Raymond.” Gravel pinged off the gas pumps and the man’s ungathered face.
About a half-mile down the highway, Altamont Antioch Baptist Church had fluffed itself into a comfortable nest under a broad canopy that like a leafy parasol, blocked the relentless August sun. Small and white, clapboard siding, a gilded spire as tall as the church itself, the church seemed eternal, as if the passing years couldn’t touch it. A small sign that announced the Sunday School hours and the second to last preacher’s name welcomed me. I didn’t feel welcomed, though. This had been my mama’s church when she was a girl. With its tin sheet roof and whitewashed clapboard siding, it reminded me of a dime-store painting, a piece of Americana, a perfect place for Mama to be married, if she hadn’t run off to the Grundy County justice.
I pulled into the gravel lot the visitation must not have begun because only a few cars were there-a red and black long-bed Ford—a faded-blue Nova, a white Buick Century, its dash cracked from the sun, a black Towne Car, gleaming like a sleek ebony stone. Must be the undertakers car. I said to myself. Good. Maybe I can see him alone.
A semicircular wreath, a mixture of white and. red silk flowers, hung discreetly on the massive oak doors. Antioch, my mama had told me years before, had been built around the turn of the century by local carpenters, most of them original members of the congregation.
When I walked in, I felt those carpenters the legacy of their work. Heart of pine and oak blended splendidly to form the pews, the altars, and the pulpit lines, gentle and sweeping, seemed to emerge from nowhere, converge to form a sweet melody of design, and then disappear into infinity.
I stood, hands almost touching in applause, as the melody began a crescendo. An insistent finger jabbed my shoulder and shattered my reverie. I whirled around, cursing myself for not sensing the man behind me.
“I said, ‘May I help you?’”
“You must be the undertaker,” I said to the broad, flattened, somber face.
“We prefer to call ourselves morticians these days:’ He didn’t look like an undertaker, not ghoulish-more like a car salesman, slick enough but not too slick.” Are you a friend of the family?”
“Family,” I said. I’m her son.
“Oh, I see. I didn’t realize. You don’t sound much like folks around here.” He turned away, walked toward the right wing.
”I’m from… I live in New York.”
As the man turned, the practiced sobriety blotted out the surprise on his face. Most people wouldn’t have noticed, but I had spent a lifetime studying faces. “…must be Raymond.” He pumped the offered hand. “I heard a lot about you. We weren’t sure you’d be coming in. The family will be delighted, just delighted.”
“I’m sure they will.” The old doubts returned: feelings I thought I’d locked away a long time ago pecked at me, chirping a shrill song. My eyes traced the curves of the pews, rolling through the gentle, soothing valleys of wood and stone until the sound of the thoughts faded away.
“To see the deceased?”
My attention focused on the undertaker just as he finished the sentence. I said, “Would I like to see the deceased?”
The undertaker smiled, but his eyes blinked twice betraying his frustration. “Yes, that is what I said. Twice.”
“I believe I would,” I said.
The man led me down the left hallway. The light of the August day filtered through the rooms to the right, and I lingered, not knowing why, in the day-room doorway, fixed on a bird cage made of popsicle sticks. For an instant, I lingered, but I sensed that the man had stopped and was waiting for me. He was talking, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.”
“I was just saying…” He turned into the room and I lost him again.
I followed the man into the small room. My mama’s casket, closed, glowed canary yellow in the sunlight. How tacky, I thought. How utterly tacky. Clydette must have picked it out. Mama’s life had been colorless. Full of smells and stinks and perfumes, yes, bathed in the aroma of bacon in the mornings of sweat and Clorox in the afternoon, and of Emeraude dabbed on her neck for Sunday Service, masking the week’s work. But no color. Her life, was drab.
Her death should have been drab, too. “So Clydette picked it out,” I said.
“Yes, yes. That’s what I said a while back.” His nostrils flared, but the smile remained fixed. “Mr. Barrow, have you heard a word I said?”
I fluttered like a bird pegged with a stone. “No, I’m sorry, I haven’t. You see, I’m…”
“Preoccupied. Full of distraction right now, I know. It’s hard to concentrate in times like these, I know.”
“No, no. You see, I’m…”
A terse pat on the back. A beckoning hand. I flit forward. The casket seems to roar, attack me. My feet search the floor for a foothold, a perch. Two latches thrown. The lid lifted an inch. My hand slamming it down. The undertaker’s nostrils flaring, the terse patting, the vibration of fading footsteps. I am left alone.
Somewhere deep in my recollections, the chirping begins. A soft cheep of a chickadee, the lonesome coo of the dove. Lifting the lid, the first hot wave of Mama’s stench encircling me like a net. Swifts join the song—thousands and thousands of shrieking cries. I reel, the lid springs open. The song fades, leaving me shaking.
She is there. Shrouded in a dress she never owned, great streaks of rouge seem to gouge her cheeks, bright red lipstick on wax candy lip.
A hand touched mine, a gentle squeeze.
“Hello, Raymond.” The woman was pretty. Dark brown hair framing a pleasant, scrubbed face. She held out her arms.
“Hello, Sissy. How are you?” I whispered into her ear.
She held onto my hand. “Raymond, this is my fiancé, Roosevelt Stargin.
Rosie, this is my brother, Mond.”
The young man’s tie was too long, his pants too short, and he lugged too often on his collar, but his smile was genuine. “How do,” he said and extended his hand.
“Very well, thank you.”
“I… I seen some of your stuff, y’know, painting and little buildings and stuff. They’re real pretty, I don’t care what folks around here say. Ow,”
“Watch your mouth, Rosie.” She pulled her heel out of his foot
“Oh, don’t worry about it” I smiled. “I never listen to my critics.”
Sissy and I laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Rosie said, offended.
“I’ll tell you later, Rosie.”
“He doesn’t know?”
“I’ll tell you later,”
“Roosevelt,” I began, “it’s no big secret I’m …”
“Raymond Earl Barrow, Lord have mercy, I do declare.” The voice careened through the room. A squat, square-faced woman waddled up to me and threw her arms around my stomach…It’s so good to have you home,” She shouted, forming the words carefully.
“It’s good to be here, Clydette,” I said, but I wasn’t quite sure that was true.
Clydette, camouflaged in a canary yellow dress, waved a beefy hand at the body. “Ain’t she beautiful?” she yelled.
“Clydette, darling,” Sissy said, “Mond is deaf, so it don’t do no good to holler.”
She shot her sister that look. “I know that I just get carried away, that’s all.”
“You’re deaf?” Rosie shouted. “But you can talk.”
“He’s not a mute; Rosie. He just can’t hear.”
“Well, I noticed he talked funny, but I just thought that was his Yankee accent How. Do. You. Do. It?”
“I read lips. And don’t feel like you have to slow down. By the way, Sissy, you better make my apologies to the undertaker. He thinks I was rude and not listening, but he kept turning away in mid-sentence. I tried to explain, but he was too busy consoling me.”
Sissy showed me her sweet smile, the one with no teeth bared. “I’ll be glad to, eventually. I think I’ll let him stew a little.” She mouthed the words: He’s a friend of Clydette’s. She picked out the casket. Could you guess?
Clydette plowed into the conversation. “Would you two stop conversating like that? It’s awful distracting. Didn’t Mama tell you it ain’t polite to whisper in public?”
“I wasn’t whispering,” I said innocently.
“You know what I mean:” Clydette frogged me on the arm. “Ain’t the casket just grand?”
“Amazing,” I said.
“Hideous,” Sissy mouthed.
“It’s very… yellow,” I said.
“I know it” Her eyes misted over, and she dabbed them with a monogrammed hanky. “It was her favorite color, you know.”
No, I didn’t know that, I thought.
“Yeller is such a pretty, lively color. Why, you know, I bought me a new dress so’s I could match the casket” She lurched to the coffin and struck a pose, spreading her chiffon like a drape over a statue, covering Mama’s face.
“Clydette,” Sissy rushed over, “you get your tent off Mama.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mama.” She patted a cold cheek, arranged a stray hair.
“Just look at her, ain’t she just beautiful?”
“Hellfire, Clydette,” Sissy said, “why don’t you just crawl in there with her?”
Fabricated surprise pierced the armor of her face. “I beg your pardon. I can’t believe you would say such a thing in front of Mama’s body.”
“I don’t know, Clydette,” said I, ”I think you’d make a fine-looking corpse. After all, you’ve already got the dress for it.”
Out came the hanky. “You ain’t changed a bit, have you? Not one bit. You think you’re so much better’n everybody else, mister artsy-fartsy.” She plowed through us. “Sissy, I expected better of you.” She covered her mouth. “Tomorrow, he’ll be back in New York with his faggot friends, and here you’ll be. Don’t come crying to me to make up then.” She marched down the hall.
Bitch, Sissy mouthed.
“Aren’t you afraid she’s excommunicated you?”
“I wish.” She closed the lid of the coffin. “Good night, Mama. Sweet dreams.” The clasps clicked, locked. “Tomorrow or the next day, she’ll come around, begging me to let her forgive me.” She winked at Roosevelt.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess I’ll head on out. See y’all in a minute. Call me if you need anything.”
“Now, Mond, give me some sugar.” After the hug and a peck on the cheek, she said, “I’m glad you come this time. I was afraid you wouldn’t”
“It was time.”
“You seen Daddy yet?”
“Won’t have much choice, considering where we’re going today.”
“You would’ve hardly recognized him. He was thinner. What hair was left was silver. I see yours is getting that way, now. The skin cancer was hard on him. I want to say that he was sorry for the things that… happened.”
My daddy and I had spoken little since I was a boy. I blamed him for most of the lousy life ‘we led. Why don’t you get a job and quit drinking, I once asked him. After he had backhanded me across the kitchen and knocked two teeth loose, he told me it was his house, he’d do what he wanted. I felt the bridge in my mouth, the one that had replaced the teeth.
I peeked into my heart and found little sympathy. “Did he lose any more fingers?” My daddy always seemed to be losing body parts. He’d get drunk and go to work in a mill or shop, and then he’d come home a lesser man.
“No, not after those last two. Mond, you’re a sick boy, you know that?”
When we were kids, Sissy and I had learned a trick to aggravate our sister. Since my accident happened when she was two, Sissy had grown up used to my hearing loss. The rest of the family was always forgetting to face me, I thought on purpose. I learned quickly to read lips as my only means of real communication.
Sissy, though, helped me. By the time she was four, Sissy formed her words for me, and I responded out loud. Our sister said this one-way vocalization drove her to distraction. She swore that it was unnatural, the work of the devil.
“Excuse me, sir, ma’am,” interrupted the undertaker. His palms pressed together. “It’s time for the service to begin.”
Without a sound, Sissy led me to the vestibule. I took my seat on the front pew.
Friends and relatives packed the tiny church, as much to catch a glimpse of the bad son made good as to pay respects to Mama. It seemed to me that the building cracked and groaned under their weight. The temperature was noticeably higher. What earlier had seemed to be a splendid hall had changed into a cluttered cage, and I fluttered in its oppressive heat
The pall-bearers rolled in the yellow coffin. The undertaker, with all the dignity he could borrow, lifted the lid. Even over the heat and sweat, I could smell her, like a mix of old baloney and preservative.
During the service, I entertained myself by tracing the thread lines of the preacher’s embroidered shawl. Veins of golden light danced through a perfect pattern. I delighted in its symmetry and fluid motion. In its design, I found a new painting. People often ask me, where do you get you ideas from? Once I responded that ideas were like sperm—you were born with more than you’d ever need, but you had to wait around for them to be useful. That was picked up by the wire services and made the quotables in several magazines. But to be honest, I have no idea where my inspiration comes from. I really don’t care, as long as it keeps coming back.
By the time I checked my watch, the preacher had gone on for forty minutes.
“… and I don’t know what the Lord has in mind for Milly May Barrow. None of us know what God had in store for Milly May Barrow. We cannot know until we reach the pearly gates of Heaven. And He might not tell us then. But you can rest assured, my children, that God has a plan. He has writ His plan in His Book of Life. Yes, He has a plan. The great God Almighty in Heaven above has a plan for you, sinner.” His eyes bulged and the ligaments strained in his neck like cables laced around a hot air balloon. I knew he was working up a crescendo. Soon, he would be spent, his fury transferred to the faithful. “Now let us pray,”
I had never heard a prayer. Before my accident, my mama hadn’t gone in much for church. She found religion a year of so afterwards, too late for me to hear. I’ve read the Bible, probably more than the preacher himself, but the services didn’t hold much meaning for me. I could tell from the strained faces and purple fury of the preacher that the sound of the words had more impact than their meaning. I couldn’t lip-read a scream.
I bowed my head out of respect. The prayer was over long before I lifted my head. Sissy had to signal me by squeezing my hand. To the faithful, my actions seemed the devotion of a good and loving son, but in truth, I’d spent my time poring over the rich grain of the floor.
The doors to the church flew open to uncage the mourners. Pall-bearers, mostly sons of Milly May’s sisters, carried the bright box. To me, it seemed a vibrant yellow pill.
I stepped into the light awash with the cacophony of colors and scents, the stymied air of the church behind me. Sissy looped her arm through mine and led me to the second limousine. Clydette had piled into the first one.
“How far out is the graveyard?” I said.
“A little ways, off the highway some,” Clydette said. “I want you to be ready, now. It ain’t nothing special, now. Clydette had to make out with what Mama and Daddy had, which weren’t much.”
“This where Daddy’s buried?”
“Yeah.” Several minutes passed. “It hurt Mama something awful when you didn’t come home.”
This isn’t my home, I thought. “I couldn’t see mourning something that I’d wished for years would happen.” I looked away.
Her gentle hand turned my chin to her. “I know you don’t mean that, Mond.”
“Yes, I do. You among all people should know how much I hate him.”
“But he was your daddy.”
“And I was his son.”
The graveyard was stuck out next to a farm house right on the highway. Chain links surrounded the hodgepodge of marked and unmarked graves. We walked to the grave site. A small sign proclaimed it to be THE LAST PIT STOP BEFORE HEAVEN. The pall-bearers hefted the beloved through the maze of graves and over the crumbling oak stump. They set her on the pine boards above the grave.
A row of gray metal chairs trimmed the precipice of the grave. In a few minutes, the chairs filled with the dutiful, and the pine boards split with the great weight of Mama’s yellow casket.
“Our father who art…” The preacher’s lips moved. When I focused on the red clay mud and mixed the hues of the earth with the yellow of the coffin, a radiant orange appeared in my mind. With my eyes for a brush, I painted the dead brown grass and the sullen summer leaves. An autumn breeze swept in, it seemed, and the summer was over brushed with vibrant, cooling color. The heat seemed to fade, and I sat in my metal chair, almost serene.
Out of the comer of my eye, I spotted a dog, a blue-tick hound, snuffling to ground outside the fence, its wet, soppy nose finding the way. The hound dog moved up and down the fence, pensively at first, then frantically.
The preacher had finished. Two cousins from North Georgia, kin of Mama’s, had assembled by the grave to sing Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Sissy winced, and I knew the singers were probably off-key. The fine capillaries in her cheeks and ears pulsed with blood. The hound dog stopped abruptly, pawed at his ears, then bayed to the heavens as if his heart would break.
I couldn’t hear him—there was no possible way. But my ears rang with the baying, a ringing that seemed to turn into a pulsing gong. The dog reminded me of another dog, one I’d forgotten, or blocked out-I had blocked out so much. Then I remembered.
A fury of light, images of the baying and shrieking of a pup. My daddy cussing the dog, me, my life. The stench of liquor in his pores. Grabbing my head. Beating it against the side of the well. Me screaming, ”I didn’t mean to hurt it, Daddy. I didn’t mean”—Bang—”to hurt it”—Bang—”didn’t mean to”—Bang—”didn’t mean…” The overpowering gong and the roar. Daddy’s nails digging into my scalp, pulling the hair loose in furious clumps, the falling wisps of yellow down. My daddy saying, “I’ll learn you, boy. I’ll learn you.” The darkness pouring into me. The warm gentle flow of blood from one cut ear. My daddy walking away, hands guilty with hair and blood. My mama screaming, running to me. The great clanging of the gong shrinking into faint, electric buzz.
“Accident, my ass.” My tears washed my face, and I knew the truth. My lips trembled, and I tasted salt with the tip of my tongue.
No one would notice, I knew. They would think I was crying for my mama. My body shook and seemed to fade from view. I felt the sensation of falling, spinning into infinity, lost in the world of the first nightly dream.
“Please stop me before I hit bottom,” I said aloud.
I felt Sissy’s gentle fingers in my hand, her soft, downy cheek on mine. I seemed to awaken, and she held me, an unhearing lost child.
Clydette stood beyond us, dutifully dropping a handful of dirt into the grave.
She dabbed her eyes with the hanky. The preacher smiled approval at my grief.
I stiffened, unable to move, as my rage stupefied me. I would have liked to say a thousand things, recriminations, accusations, but I couldn’t I felt mute.
“Son, would you like to . . .” The preacher’ gestured.
I nodded. I grabbed a handful of dirt and lifted it as if to throw it down in some last, triumphant gesture of contempt; but my hand remembered, even if I didn’t. My mama holding me in her arms, “Hush sugar, you be all right.” The glowing yellow sun that seemed to warm her as she held my hands as the blood dried.
My hands lowered and gently opened. The soil, lifted in spite, rolled from my palms into the grave, showering my mama with a sweet, slow melody, the like of which she’d never heard.
Originally published in The Crescent Review, 1994.