When she was only two
Bad Jamie’s mother wandered into the chestnut trees
past the blackberry briars and forgotten apples trees
and made it all the way to the creek.
A pair of minks watched her from beneath
the roots of a holly bush barely clinging to the bank.
A trio of beavers slapped the water in warning,
but Bad Jamie’s mother only laughed
and grabbed up a fistful of sand and mud.
She took off one patent leather shoe
and gave it to the minnows
who ferried it downstream for safekeeping.
Meanwhile her mother sensed a quiet
and let the potatoes fry to black
while she ran zig-zagged to find her roving girl.
Bad Jamie’s mother was gray around the mouth
where she had eaten clay, and she didn’t know the word
for minks even if she had seen them in their hiding place.
For the rest of the day, she played with clothespeg children,
and her mother put the remaining shoe high on a shelf
just in case the other ever turned up.
When she was nineteen
Bad Jamie’s mother lay down in the creekbed
to feel pointed stones dig into her back.
That sharp pain was much preferred to the waves
that were pushing Clarence out of her body.
When she was almost twenty-one,
Bad Jamie’s mother faced upstream
and knelt in the deepest part of the creek.
She let the creekwater flow straight into her belly,
and the doctor got drunk later and swore that when Bad Jamie was born,
a minnow was flopping on the floor
where her copious water broke.
When Bad Jamie nursed, the corners of his mouth
sparkled with the mica of creek mud.
His mother wiped the grains from those divots
between fat cheek and rose lip
and never pondered why her baby was taking soil
along with milk from her breasts.
In a way she knew without knowing
that the dirt was from her
and that milk and the mountain spurted from her,
not in equal amounts but enough for its purposes.
That young girl didn’t question her body that way,
didn’t question the howls from her pinked and wrinkled
baby. Just fed and wiped. Fed and wiped and jostled him to sleep
while a wild dog howled into the blowing chestnut trees.
Jessica Fordham Kidd is a lifelong Alabamian. She is the associate director of first-year writing at the University of Alabama, and her poems have appeared in Drunken Boat
, Goblin Fruit
, and The Paris Review
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