Uncle Gerald used to make wine
from mayhaw berries gathered
in Louisiana woods. He went among the trees
to escape Aunt Lola’s nagging tones.
He would decant his brew,
range it in battalions of pop bottles
propped against the window.
It was bilious pink, the shade of Doris Day’s lipstick.
He gave me a case. I stashed it in the cellar.
At night, the bottles would explode, one by one,
bayou fusillade. Finally I decided
things had gone far enough,
poured the last one down the drain.
The sink was stippled with rust-coloured stains
but when the mayhaw wine hit them,
they smoked, went fizzzzz, melted straight into air.
Poor Lola died quite suddenly
one evening after dinner
Nobody was surprised.
When we were taken, my sister and I,
they made us march for days through canyons
parched with thirst. My face was branded,
tattooed with blue, Mojave palimpsest.
One man found me pretty.
We had a child. I began to breathe
the desert light, embrace the stars,
gallop naked from the waist up,
feel warm air upon my breasts.
But prisoners were exchanged
and I went back, lied, said
I had not undergone
The Fate Worse Than Death.
In the mirror till the day I died,
my face was strewn with blue star lines.
Note: Olive Oatman and her sister were captured by an unknown Native American tribe in 1851 who later sold them to the Mojave. You can read more about her here.
Executive, 40s. Likes country walks,
Maseratis. Seeks thin, bubbly blonde, 20-29.
Midlife crisis. Delete.
Sussex man, 85, own hair, own teeth,
WLTM decent woman, 45-60, for LTR.
Looking for a carer. Delete.
Successful estate agent, Slough. Separated, tactile,
seeks warm-blooded lady. Anywhere.
Assertive accountant, into discipline,
seeks submissive F.
Suburban would-be Shades of Gray. Delete.
Writer. Widower. Faithful to one woman for many years.
WLTM articulate, intelligent woman.
If telling the truth (highly unlikely)
perhaps a runner. Click.
Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emeritus, King’s College London. She has published two poetry collections, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003) and Abiding Chemistry (Aldrich Press, 2015). Her pamphlet Constellations will be published next week by Three Drops Press.