One Method of Avoidance
Mustaches are sinister. Raccoons, black ice, curling irons, clipboards, roofing guns,
absinthe, marketers, head cheese, every male gynecologist I’ve encountered, all
sinister. Maybe you’d protest mustaches or raccoons, but you must agree
about the clipboard. Its destruction of creative spirit, its Linnaean categorization.
Let's talk about this. That our lives are littered with artifacts of aggression
masquerading as implements of order, coherence, bureaucracy. Staplers are sinister.
Scissors are sinister. Paper clips can be manipulated to serve the sinister.
And language. Inherent connotations condemning the left through Latin
roots: sinistra. Let’s talk. “Chlamydia” is sinister. “Evacuation” is sinister.
“Agenda” as a joke is sinister. Let’s talk. Knives are sinister. Deadbolts are sinister.
Junkies, sinister. Car keys, sinister. Don’t let me sleep. Jugular veins are sinister.
Dream. Coroners are sinister. See. Marilyn Sue collapsed in her kitchen, stab wounds
emptying out, linoleum so drenched the hazmat team exacto’d (exacto is sinister)
the stains away. Sinister. Sinister. Sinister. (Don't let me) Say it enough
and any sense it could have made
for Marilyn Sue Gillespie
Only small people hate god. I'm getting smaller each day.
– Leslie Anne Mcilroy
The day before the service we lost our
way, got turned around on roads dividing
corn field from pasture. The same dun acre
repeats from Greenfield to Lamar the month
of February. Your children were abashed
at the forgetting. I had a folder.
It was no help when Pastor Robert asked
when you were saved. We stumbled. Insisted
though the phase began to fade when your
husband left you with two babies and ten
dollars, your salvation took hard, held fast.
"I'm Catholic," I told him, as if that would
explain a dereliction that was mine,
not yours, afraid he would refuse because
your family could not hold on to facts
he deemed to be your toll. He was kind. I
had a folder. Rifled through it. Made certain
Mary Jacobs knew all the words to "In
the Garden." I don't have to tell you what
Baptist mourning sounds like but I thought
it would be livelier. I wore a suit.
Gina wept mutely, and I tried to tell
her that the daughter doesn't sit in back.
I was hoping for a hidden wine skin
or a florid uncle. I figured you
would have enjoyed that. Remember last
summer? We drove the dirt roads, taking turns
blindly, coming up on the church that seemed
abandoned, broom grass and Queen Anne's lace to
our thighs. The door opened. The lights turned on.
Inside – salvaged pews, a plywood altar.
You played a blues riff on the piano,
smirked at your own audacity. It was
hot and we waved paper fans at hornets
and our throats. The backs were stamped "Sinners
Union Christian Church" and you remembered.
It was a glorious afternoon. Your
service was nothing like that but it was
not for you. I had a stupid folder.
You would have laughed. We hosted supper
at the old bowling alley, the one wedged
between the train tracks and the swimming pool.
Some Nebraskans turned it into as much
of an Italian Bistro as southern
Missouri can stand. Uncle Shep asked
if he could pay and I almost told him
you would roll over in your grave but you
didn't have one yet, just a locked drawer
at the coroner's office. We tried to
pretend it was a normal death. Steve took
me aside to say he knew the date, that day
you flung records from your house because
the music wasn't holy. Thank God you
got over that. When the dinner ended,
a waitress stopped me as I wrote the check
to say you didn't feel a thing. God was
watching. God took you before you knew
the knife was coming, before it pierced your
neck and you praise God felt no fear. Your
body on the kitchen floor, your killer
on his knees, finishing, and you were in
the arms of God rejoice. Sue is home rejoice.
It was a miracle praise God. Sue, I
said Amen. I did. And meant it. Rejoice.
Remains Five acres bordered by land no longer your father’s. The stone schoolhouse that saw you married, my husband already waving his fists inside your womb. The gate knotted up with overgrown broomgrass, guarding a path to the creek. The neighbor’s goats have escaped their pen, crossed the dirt road always giving up dust, have their run of the place. This is the land you saved, the asylum of your planned escape when the world goes nuts. Sue, we have your license plates, the red toothbrush you bought my son. My husband thought to put aside the butcher’s block I loved. You know what I am avoiding: ashes in the box on top the bureau. You are not home. We are not safe. Nothing ended like you wanted. What remains: the trial. I mean pilgrimage. Terror. I mean rage.Michele Battiste is the author of the poetry collections Ink for an Odd Cartography (2009) and Uprising (2013), both from Black Lawrence Press. She is also the author of four chapbooks, the latest of which is Lineage (Binge Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Anti-, The Awl, Mid-American Review, and Women's Studies Quarterly. She lives in Boulder, CO where she raises fund for nonprofits undoing corporate evil.