Self-Portrait as My Mother Would Have It

by Victoria C. Flanagan
Hair curled just so, and not the kind of woman
to up and shun the Blue Ridge,
Fred’s Mercantile, the fawns that crept
over Beech’s dry-grass October slopes,
or the season-turn glory of flame azalea,
black gum, sugar maple, Table Mountain pine.
She speaks soft, wears Margie’s pearls
and Nora Mae’s ruby, can stumble through
the hymnal by rote. She, who maybe existed
for a moment, never wandered, doesn’t leave
dishes to dry in the rack. She never walked out
around back to see her Daddy killing feral cats,
that trusty, backroad two-step death:
a crushed throat and a Buck knife.
Never learned painkillers’ drugstore bribe
laid out in the plaid-papered back bathroom. No,
her only testament is that of the piedmont’s
late-bloom honeysuckle. The Watauga’s
whitewater, the snap of a male cardinal lifting
from a snow-lit branch. This woman,
she knows decency doesn’t depend
on ending consonants, tracks seasons
by the height of pigweed in blind Harvey’s pasture.
Is good-china delicate. Her mother’s devotion
a garland upon her brow. She can rattle off
the six creeks flowing out of Valle Crucis, and nothing
has been taken from her, especially not by force.
Faithful, she knows winter pays up
in the stages of a magnolia’s swell, bloom,
and seed-drop, and she remembers
what her grandfather quoted about fear:
that out here, any watchman keeps awake
in vain. She has no reason to apologize.
And though she chooses, always, to stay,
she knows how long it takes to get way out,
past the ridgeline—God’s Damascus blade
before the afterlife, it must be, as it always
has been. She trusts in this, still.