My parents come from a place where all the houses stop
at one story
for the heat. Where every porch—front
and back—simmers in black screens that sieve
mosquitoes from our blood. Where everyone knows
there’s only one kind of tea:
served sweet. The first time my father
introduced my mother to his parents,
his mother made my mother change
the bed sheets in the guest room. She’d believed it
a gesture of intimacy. My grandmother
saved lavender hotel soaps and lotions
to wrap and mail as gifts at Christmas. My grandfather
once shot the head off a rattlesnake
in the gravel driveway of the house he built
in Greenwood. He gave the dry rattle to my mother
the same week I was born, saying, Why don’t you
make something out of it.
About this Poem
"In my poem 'Mississippi: Origins' anecdotal fragments—sharp and sweet, poignant and stark—combine to create a locus for the family lyric. And that dried up rattlesnake rattle (which my mother declined to make into a baby rattle) definitely ranks as one of my family’s stranger heirlooms. That and the pair of brass knuckles my white-haired great-aunts, Mary and Joanna, kept in their shared house, in case they were called upon to punch potential burglars in the face. And the skull fragment from medical school my other grandfather, L.C., used as an ashtray. We’re a well-adjusted bunch."
Anna Journey is the author of the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California.
Date Published: 2013-06-17
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/mississippi-origins