(H.D. Barnett, Army Air Corps, 1945)
Today is my Daddy's yartzeit. He died alone, sitting in his armchair in front of the TV, at about 8 in the morning. My older brother found him an hour later when he got up.
Cause of death was a series of cardiac problems, all of them fairly easily treatable, for which he had been refusing care for a few years -- we found out from his doctor after his death.
He left a huge mess behind, which is still weighing on me.
I wrote a eulogy for him which was read by my older brother at his funeral. I didn't attend his funeral. After I wrote the eulogy, I wrote an anti-eulogy. Both are below.
Over the years, I've written many poems about my family. The ones that most pertinently include my father at the end of this post.
I'll say the kaddish, light a candle, and keep sorting his mess.
EULOGY -- by Maggie Jochild/Meg Barnett, 19 October 2006
My father was a farmer's son, from an endless generation of farmer's sons, born into a nation that was still 80% farm-based. He and his generation would lead America's shift away from a farm economy and all the cultural changes that would entail. He would spend his work life in the new petroleum industry, carrying with him a farmkid ingenuity and absolute conviction in hard work. He wasn't just a member of what Tom Brokaw has called The Greatest Generation, he was, within that generation, one of those who rode a wave from one kind of dominant national economy to another and made it look easy.
Daddy was first attracted to seismic work because while in the Air Corps during World War II he had worked with an alidade and a transit -- in other words, it was the tools that drew him into what he would do for the rest of his life. He heard through some kind of grapevine -- how casually life-changing decisions can arrive -- that there was a seismic crew in Bowie, Texas and he caught the bus to this town without knowing a single soul there. He got a job with GSI and began a never-ending learning curve.
At the tail end of September 1946, he told me "Some of the guys said there were a couple of real pretty girls who worked as soda jerks in the drug store." He wandered down there, and met one of the soda jerks, Mary Jo Atkins. He said "When I saw her, my heart just fell." The woman who would become my mother rented a room not far from the drugstore, and he began walking her home at night after work, then would have to walk all the way across town back to his rented room -- he didn't have a car and there were no buses. Less than five weeks after they met, Daddy asked Mama to marry him as they sat on the porch swing on the front porch of her rooming house. On October 25, they were married by a Justice of the Peace. Two months later, they moved to follow Daddy's job and didn't stop until their children were grown.
In this last year, I found out that Daddy's great-great-grandfather, Isaac Stafford of Moore County, North Carolina had produced a family of sons all of whom became mechanical tinkerers and self-styled inventors. From that time until the present, every single generation of these descendants has been filled with boys and men who were irresistably drawn to figuring out how things worked and coming up with ways to make them work better. When the oil industry began, these far-flung Stafford descendants were all compelled to its work as if by genetic imperative. Daddy's great-grandfather George Stafford was an inventor of the Stafford and Robinson Straw Binder Harvester. When he lost his left arm to this machine at 65 years of age, it didn't stop him -- he invented a combination knife and fork he could use to eat his meals one-handed. Daddy and I marveled at this mechanical predisposition that has spanned six generations so far.
One of my best memories of my parents is when I was in my late teens and early 20s and they lived in Denton. They subscribed to two different Dallas newspapers because they couldn't agree which one was better. In the mornings they got up extremely early -- farm children's habits die hard -- and, after making coffee, would sit down at the kitchen table with their respective papers, taking turns reading articles and editorials aloud to each other, often about the same news item. This was competition, but intensely affectionate and making them laugh non-stop. I would wake up listening to this exchange, evidence of a long friendship between active minds. The day after we buried Mama, Daddy stood on the back porch of this same house at sunset, then came in suddenly, his eyes filled with tears. When I asked him what was wrong, he said "Jo just came to me, I felt her real as anything, and told me she was all right." He cried, and I didn't know how to comfort him. I don't think he ever stopped missing her.
One time when I was visiting from California, I was helping Mama straighten up their garage and on a shelf I found a long row of Western paperbacks hidden behind a stack of canned goods. They were all Louis L'Amour novels, which were what Daddy read, and I suggested we give them to him. Mama shushed me and explained that the plots in all these books were so identical, Daddy couldn't remember which ones he had already read -- he just liked to read himself to sleep by them at night. So she kept this stash, and when he finished one book, she'd put it at the end of the row and give him the first book in the row as if she'd just bought it at the used book store. She had gone through the entire set several times so far. I kept her secret.
Daddy cried in front of us, was not ashamed to show his hurt, which was a blessing for us children. He cried when he was happy, too. And if I needed physical comforting and he was available, he was my first choice. Mama was practical and usually busy -- she could open any jar with her phenomenally strong hands, but her approach to treating bobos was just as efficient. Daddy was tender and empathetic, would blow as long as you needed after applying iodine, would wait if you asked him to wait before pulling off a Band-Aid. When I was ten, I got impetigo from infected mosquito bites on my legs that I would not stop scratching. The daily iodine treatment made me cry so hard, and removing the encrusted gauze bandages was so painful, that after the first time, he didn't push me about it again. Instead, he waited until I was sound asleep at night, then he would slowly soak the bandages from my legs with warm washcloths, clean the infected areas and reapply medicine and covering -- he did it all so gently I never woke up.
When we moved from one Texas or Louisiana town to another during my childhood, we often set out at nightfall because it was cooler and our 1958 Chevy had no air conditioning. Bill and I would be made pallets in the deep back floorboards of that old car, the middle hump acting as a pillow, with the rush and vibration over asphalt inches below our bodies. I would stay awake while everybody else slept, sitting up behind Daddy, watching the road from his vantage point and asking him occasional questions. He told me I helped keep him awake.
Another strong memory I have is, on one such night journey, asking him about the tall communication towers with a blinking red light that dotted the West Texas landscape, often the only sign of human existence for fifty miles at a stretch. He told me they were towers with elevators which ran all the way to the top, a dazzling height, and at the very top was a Coke machine -- that's why the lights blinked red. If you went to those towers and were brave enough to ride the elevator up, you could get a Coke from the machine without having to put in a coin. He described it as a kind of modern oasis for desert travelers. I of course asked for us to go to the next tower -- soft drinks were an extremely rare treat in our family, not just because of the expense but also because they were considered not suitable for children to drink. He answered, regretfully, that we didn't have time to spare on this trip -- maybe another time. After that, I asked for a visit to the Coke towers on every trip, and we never could quite make it to one, but I held out hope. I could just taste the Coke, how sweet they were in those days in the little bottles, with a cluster of slurry ice at the neck. I was disappointed years later when I found out this story wasn't true, but not disappointed in Daddy -- it was an awfully good story.
Another beloved memory is his fondness for both ingenious practical jokes and for deft magic tricks. He could do a number of sleight-of-hand dazzlers, but one trick always eluded him. It involved balancing a raw egg on a pie plate over a glass of water and using a broom to strike the pie plate in such a manner as to shunt it to the side and drop the egg, intact, into the water. Every so often, he'd tell us he had figured out what he was doing wrong and he was sure he could pull off the trick this time. Mama would begin protesting, announcing she was not cleaning up any messes, but laughing all the while. I for one believed him every time -- this time it was going to work. And every time, it wound up with the egg slammed against the wall, dripping yolk, while an overturned glass of water dripped off the table onto the floor. And all of us laughing our heads off.
When I was in high school, we had a family tradition of solving the Sunday puzzles all together, Daddy reading out the clues and us competing to come up with the answer. He was particularly fond of the jumble puzzle, and he and I were ferocious in our bid to be the first to rearrange the letters in our heads and yell out the right word. But at age 15, adolescence caught up with me, and I began insisting on sleeping in on Sunday mornings -- I preferred my own teenage thoughts to the embarrassing hokum of my family.
Daddy couldn't bear this, neither the distancing nor the sleeping in. After a couple of weeks of doing the puzzle without me, one Sunday he carried a kitchen chair to just outside my bedroom door, sat down and began reading the jumble puzzle aloud in a particularly loud voice. I woke up to letters being shouted through my bedroom door and the distant sound of Mama laughing. I would put the pillow over my head, trying to shut out the sound, but my brain would not cooperate and instead seized on the riddle, solving it in spite of myself. And in spite of myself, I would roll over and shout out the answer. I would hear his low chuckle through the door, and then the next set of letters would be spelled out.
A year later, I got into the habit of going out with my friends and drinking while driving around back dirt roads in the very rural area where we lived. I would come home drunk and go to my bedroom, right beside the front door, with only a cursory hello to my parents. But one night, instead of the usual beer or wine, one of my friends had stolen a pint of whiskey and we drank that. I was monumentally sloshed, and when I got home I didn't have the sense to try to conceal it.
Daddy was asleep on the couch, waiting up for me, lying there in just his khakis, no shirt, no shoes. I staggered in the door and walked right over to him, leaning over him and telling him about these two puppies someone we knew had just gotten. The local funeral home was called Owens and Brumley, and these puppies had been named Owens and Brumley. I went on and on about how clever I thought this was, and then I began gushing about how cute they were, until I worked myself into crying about it. He lay there, blinking up at me, no doubt wondering if he was dreaming. I cried so hard about the puppies that suddenly my stomach revolted and I threw up the results of my night's drinking, right onto Daddy's bare chest.
The poor man leaped to his feet and bolted for the back bathroom, gagging. I knew my goose was cooked, then. I went into my room and the small half-bath off it, and sit down on the floor in front of my toilet, weeping and resting my head on the toilet seat. After taking a shower, Daddy came back looking for me with a wet washcloth in his hand. He sat down in the floor beside me and held my head as I puked, then wiped my face for me. He told me story after story of his drinking days in the Air Corps, the excesses and stupidities he had pulled as a young man. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Then, once I was puked out, he said "If you're going to drink, you have to do it at home. No driving around, no getting drunk like this. Let me know what kind of liquor you want and I'll get it for you. But you have to be here at home." He kissed me and went off to bed.
I stopped drinking. It just didn't have a thrill to it any more. And he didn't tell Mama about my vomiting on his bare chest until years later, when we could all laugh about it.
He sure made me laugh, my Daddy. He didn't grow up with kindness but he made a conscious decision to be kind to me. His parents didn't tell him they loved him but I heard it from him every day. He never met a puzzle he didn't like. He liked being married, and he liked working hard. He taught me how to play poker when I was six, how to shoot a gun when I was eight, and how to hold my liquor when I was sixteen. He came to visit me in San Francisco during Lesbian/Gay Pride week, and when I took him out to breakfast at a place where every other man in the restaurant was gay, he chatted with the flirty waiters and acted like it was something an Okie farmboy could easily take in his stride. He gave me the chance to live in India and Brazil, and expanded my world view forever as a result. He loved my mother from the moment he set eyes on her, and I have no doubt she was waiting for him when he died. If there's something else to be learned or sorted out wherever he is, I've no doubt he's caught a quick nap and then started right on it, with that eager look in his big brown eyes. May his line go on forever.
(Mary Jo, Craig and Harold Barnett circa 1949, Bowie, Texas bus station)
THE ANTI-EULOGY, 20 OCTOBER 2006
I don't like the eulogy. It lies -- lies of omission, but still lies. I think it's what I have to do. I got to tell the truth at Bill's funeral, I pulled out all the stops and I used my true voice and the family still hasn't recovered from it. But Bill died alone and in agony and because of betrayal, and I had a score to settle. Settling it gave peace to him and to his friends there, who refused to speak or shake hands with Craig and Daddy, only with me, afterward. And I had k. running shotgun for me, and Bill's loudmouth cracker ex-wife on the other side of me, urging me on. This is a different situation, and I do think the right thing is to let him go without telling the whole truth. I tell the truth elsewhere.
But I still feel like shit about it. I haven't written on the novel since he died, and I miss them all, those five friends who love each other and have a life together. I especially miss the character who died the weekend before Daddy did, and I had to write her death and funeral, was still in that emotional/psychological space when I got the call about Daddy. I miss her in a way I don't miss Daddy, how weird is that. I love her more than I loved my father.
I'm not sleeping to rest, either. Would make a big difference if I could. I have to work tonight. I have to call Craig and Glenda both today, and right at this moment, I don't feel up to it. but I will, because "taking space" is a middle class luxury. Mama always said "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." Applies equally to bodies and emotions, and thank g*d for all the middle class women who've encouraged me to question that application. (Sara, you stand out in this regard.) Still, today I have to do what is on my list.
Barnett comes either from Old French, where it means youth like a bear, or Old German, where it means a place cleared by fire.
Here's what I left out: [The next two paragraphs are better expressed in a post I wrote about my mother last June at Maoist Orange Cake called Heritage and Interpretation Should Be In Constant Flux.]
I made different decisions, took a different path. I have not ever bound myself emotionally to a man, which is a luxury of my era, I think.
Daddy lied to Mama about the nature of his work when he married her. She didn't know the work he wanted to do meant moving all the time. When she finally found out it was never going to change, when I was five, she left him, announced she was getting a divorce. but Craig, who was almost thirteen then, begged her to stay with Daddy because he was ashamed about the idea of divorce, and she relented. She tried again to leave him when I was thirteen, because I asked her to not make me move from the town where I wanted to go through high school. The only way to give me what I wanted was to leave Daddy, and she set about doing it. He was in Singapore at the time, waiting for us to join him. but before she could start divorce proceedings or tell him what she was planning, she had her first major heart attack. He had to fly back, change positions, take care of us, and he never stopped bitching about it, not until she died.
When I found out what she'd done, again, I never told him. I felt responsible for her heart attack. but, the thing is -- she let me feel responsible.
When we lived in India, from the time was I six months old until age four years, there was plenty of money -- overseas contracts. Enough money for Mama to stop being a housewife, hire a cook and a full-time ayah (nanny) for me. I spent all but two hours of each day with Nilmoni, whom I thought was my mother. Our time was usually out on the streets of Calcutta among Nilmoni's close girl friends from high school who had joined the Missionaries of Charity and worked among the poorest of the poor. As a baby and toddler, I was right there with them and Mother Teresa, watching what they did and learning who I was meant to be in the world.
Craig, on the other hand, was put into a private English boy's school, came home only on weekends. He was beaten and raped and trained to be owning class. When we both came back to Southern Louisiana in 1958, two months before Bill was born, I realized Craig was out to get me. I represented that which must be conquered and humiliated to him. Our sudden poverty further enraged him. Class warfare within a poor family. And Daddy just never noticed a thing.
So I am a Jochild now, not a Barnett. I love women because Adrienne Rich taught me the complicated truth is the only one worth having. I have a voice, I have the voice of generations of silenced women, and most of the time, I let myself use it without restraint. Thanks for hearing me. -- Maggie
(Davis Mountains, Texas, home of McDonald Observatory; photo by madplanter)
Cotton cloth in what Mama called Crater Lake blue
sprayed with canary stars, on sale, dirt cheap
She bought yards and yards, made sundresses
for me and her, sport shirts for Daddy,
toddler Bill and Craig the sullen teenager.
I tried mine on as soon as she clicked up the feeddog,
snipped the last thread. It smelled of sizing
and Mama's Winstons. But it was not for everyday.
Who knows now what came first,
the family uniform or the outing?
We lived in the Davis Mountains, a dying
railroad village 70 miles from other towns.
But within reach of our '58 Chevy was
McDonald Observatory, Texas claim to the cosmos.
And they said ordinary people even white trash
could drive up the peak-girdling road to
frosted glass doors and be let in, talked to
by diffident men with unimaginable degrees,
trailing their gobbledegook explanations into
a hushed rotunda overhung with
It, the telescope. Maybe even get to look through It.
Mama used all the natural forces available to housewives.
Daddy worked Saturdays, sometimes all weekend.
If he wasn't gone in the field, there was always something
to be fixed, kept running, cleaned or disassembled for parts.
Maybe he'd have a nap after Sunday dinner,
kids outside, yard apes; him stretched
the length of our plastic couch, no shirt, no shoes,
snoring toward the black and white TV.
Which is more than Mama ever got.
We moved every few months.
Mama would empty cupboards into soup cartons,
crumpling in the newspaper of a town we were leaving,
stacking boxes, heaviest on bottom, along our narrow trailer hall.
She'd lay our hangered clothes across beds
on top of mirrors and photographs, capped with pillows,
a moving day lasagna.
She taped an X on each pane of glass,
put plants in the bathtub, stacked chairs
into sideways cubes. Puzzles to be undone the next day.
Daddy checked tire pressures, swore at the engine, rattled maps.
We kids boxed up cats, picked out one book or toy for the car,
laid low. We never traveled for fun.
But somehow she talked him into it, into three hours
there and back, a clear October Sunday
with enough money for gas and one soda apiece
on the way back. Mama packed egg salad, saltines, bread and butter pickles, and one of her cherry pies.
Daddy filled his field Igloo with ice water.
We dressed in what was handed us.
Except Craig who, bewilderingly, didn't want to match.
Threw his shirt on the floor. Told Mama to get off his back.
Daddy heard it from under the hood, boiled into the house.
I pulled Bill to the side yard.
Craig came out wearing the shirt.
Bill and I sat all the way over
to the other side of the back seat.
We stop for lunch at a concrete table near a solo
cottonwood. The noon desert sun, even in autumn,
throws our faces all into light and shadow.
Mama tugs me and Bill into sweaters, promises
we can take them off at the top, before we go in,
so we can all match again.
Around one long bend we catch sight of where we're heading,
gleaming cathedral with a dark slice cut out the top.
As close to heaven as we can get.
Daddy points as if we don't see.
It's easy to keep Bill quiet. Craig sits up, pulls his
bluejeaned leg back onto his half.
Mama turns around and once again explains about space,
about looking up from the bottom of a well even in daytime.
She asks me, "What did Einstein say?" and, face on fire
with being her girl, I pipe "E equal M C squared!"
Bill crawls over into the front seat, standing
with one hand on Daddy's shoulder.
The rest is fragments.
Locked frosted doors, a small sign
with hours Mama didn't know to call about.
Craig taking off his shirt, wearing just
his white Fruit of the Loom all the way home.
And not a word from Daddy.
Not a single word.
© Maggie Jochild, 5-7 p.m. (during a tornado storm), 15 November 2001; was one of 25 finalists in a PEN poetry contest judged by Adrienne Rich
GIRL OF THE PURPLE SAGE
When we moved, packed in the Chevy
From yards backed by bayou
To squares of hardpan covered with sand
Then back again, never twice the same
All on two-lane blacktops
MACK-uh-DAM as Daddy called it
There were no interstates. Roads
Went through the middle of each small town
No chain restaurants, no 7-11s
Every place looked different
Even the stretches of desert, each ring
Of creosote bush or line of salt cedar
Was singular to my traveled eye
In afternoons, as Mama dozed
And my older brother picked on my younger
I sat hunched over the middle of the front
Admiring how Daddy could drive with one
Hand casually on the steering wheel
Or not even that when he lit a Camel
It took two hands to tump down the
Unfiltered tube on his hard pack, then
Light it with a red-hot coil plucked
Out of the dash, so at those times
He let the road have us
Just his knees nudging us straight ahead
I'd stare at the lake on the pavement
In front of us, a shimmer of wet
That traveled exactly as fast as we did
A mirage I never quite disbelieved
As the radio played Keep a-movin', Dan
He's a devil, not a man, and he spreads
The burning sands with water
And the hot inrush of air through the
Open car windows scoured my face
With rippled-glass augury of
A new start, just on ahead
© Maggie Jochild,, 10 March 2004, 2:30 a.m.
Mama made my Halloween costume
using a free pattern from Redbook
black crepe dress and pointed hat
with orange yarn hair hanging down
inside the brim. In November
everything changed. She cried for
John-John saluting his Daddy, knowing
she was pregnant again, the fourth of us
She didn't tell anybody until Christmas Day
after I opened my Tom Terrific Colorforms
which I played with until they stopped sticking
I asked if we could name the baby Tom
or second choice Timmy, but she refused
to discuss it. From this I spun the wild
hope it would be a sister
dressing, wore her housecoat all day
Right after New Year, a rare snowfall
arrived during school hours. She called
Daddy to pick me up, I was not supposed
be outside in cold air but when
the janitor locked the front door, I
gave up and trudged off into slurry dusk
I really didn't mind it, I never got to be
outside in the wet. She swore when
I came in the front door, stripped me
put me in flannels, heating pad at my feet
I got pneumonia anyhow
I have so many questions. Was she in labor
that morning when made our school lunches?
How long did she wait before calling
our neighbor to please drive her to the ER?
Did they put my youngest brother in her arms
or just take him straight to the funeral director?
And did she call Daddy at all? I don't
think she did. Something got lost
that February, ran away into the dark
of that shortest month. I would
have looked for it if I had known
where to go
© Maggie Jochild,11 May 2004, 7:33 p.m.
My father calls me to say
he now has a scooter
He says this will get him out
of the house. Not from Medicaid
Though I’ve been pestering him
for years to let me help
get more services. No,
this is second-hand. He says
it runs okay but the headlight
is broken and he will have
to get it fixed so he can go
squirrel hunting Saturday
night. He is joking, though
a lot of people might not
get it, though he will be
packing heat when he goes
out, either his Glock or the
He says he is building
a ramp and this worries me
This means cinder blocks and
used plywood at an angle
not for the faint of heart
Like all the steps he pounded
together over the years
for our single-wide
Mama demanding a porch
Nothing trailer trash -- But
Daddy knowing it would have
to be taken apart and
stored in the truck bed
the next time we moved
I don’t think the scooter is
going to get Daddy away
from his TV and chairside
commode. When he retired
that was it. No more having
to kiss ass to all the
yahoos who treated him like
shit for forty years. They
are right outside his front door
Ready to laugh at his scooter
© Maggie Jochild,23 June 2004, 12:15 p.m.
BRAZIL AS A GIRL
Some Saturday nights, after the BBC radio news
we would all get in Daddy’s Rover and drive out
the river road to Praia Atalaia. South of the harbor
was an open air cantina right on the sand itself.
A brick barbecue blew flame and sparks up
into the surf-smelling night sky, with a menu
that was whatever had been caught that day
plus stringy chicken and skinny pork
served on rough boards with loaves and cold, cold
beer. Soft drinks for us kids, in rusted-cap bottles
with ice clustered in the narrow necks. This place
was famous for having half a dozen pet animals -
Goat, duck, a couple of hens, three sheep – which
all had been dyed a different color. The sheep were
pink, blue and pale green. The duck was blue, too.
They wandered around under the tables, begging
For handouts. After eating, the men who worked
wth my father and only the American women
would turn from beer to cachaça, in big clear bottles,
drink that smelled like nail polish and drained
their eyes of all intelligence. They would pour
skinny glasses full and pretend they liked each other
pretend at conversation and sloppy meaning
until the drive back into town was suicidal, all
that dark stretch drawn narrow between river and
jungle. I liked the grilled snapper and the blue duck
but not this promise of what it meant to be grown.
I sat on the bench nearest the ocean, letting it
glaze my skin with pungent crust, phosphorus
running in the breakers like magic beings come
to take me back to my real people, somewhere
© Maggie Jochild, 23 June 2004, 7:45 p.m.
Nine sites strung along the Rio Frio
on the bank or in the trees, alternating
like Christmas lights: Camp Riverview
Each site with a gravel pull-in
10 x 10 concrete slab, picnic table
and fire pit. One-holers were up
the slope, along with cold showers
and outdoor sinks for dishes
Use of showers and sink cost $1
more per night, making our total
eight bucks for the weekend
Daddy would have turned us around
Driven back home, mouth streaming
with shamed fury, because that s.o.b.
he called had not mentioned the extra
dollar. But instead he paid it. Once
again, he had to eat his pride because
Mama said, because of us kids in the
back seat. We always queered his chances
His choices, and at least we were not
allowed to forget it. Until we were at last
in the river, wide, waist deep, cold, green
Each site with its own territory, and
our patch had a small limestone ledge
with a doily ruff of rapids. Safe enough
for kids with water wings to play alone
Mama in a lawn chair on the bank, soon
finding another woman from a site nearby
to talk away the afternoon. The sun
slowed down, snared by the slow current
We ate dinner, hot dogs and beans, single
Shasta apiece, played checkers for sixty
minutes, then gloriously still in our suits
got to go back in until it was truly dark
Mama and Daddy had cots borrowed
set on either side of the picnic table
We were put in the pickup, on a single
quilt so the rucks of the truckbed found
our skinny bones. Mosquitos ravaged
our sunseared flat flesh, but my hair
smelled like river and I slept solid
until dew and bacon. Back into my
clammy suit, all of us ignoring Daddy
Sullen dangerous on his cot. Nothing
to do here, nothing at all, except be with
his family. We left early, never having
used the showers, but we spent two days
in the same place, our only vacation
As I mention to him forty years later
He says "No, that can't be right" but
he has no other example. Then he adds
"I don't remember that place, honey"
© Maggie Jochild, 12 November 2004, 2 p.m.
SHILOH IN JULY
When we went to Shiloh, the day was very hot
We got up early but the sun was way ahead
We drove from Purdy, short and silent road --
Purdy where my Daddy's line had lived
for more than ninety years before they
gave up worn-out farms and Reconstruction
to have a run at the Strip. During Shiloh
they were either in butternut there
dying in the orchard, dying without water
or thin-lipped still in Purdy, where
cannon boom and rifle shot came clear
even on a breezeless day, sliding through
the clapboard walls, clotting milk and
setting loose that first wall-eyed notion
of leaving the South behind. Leave it all
They thought it possible. But I, who came
back to see the hollows where had lived
the women who gave me my hair and eyes
I who drove the markered trail of Shiloh
Eager for the finale. the cemetery where
I might read names most familiar, great-
great-uncle boys who never left the South
I myself was taken in, unready to find what
lay at one tour marker -- left my car and
walked a short trail into torpid woods
into a clearing, just a sprawl of dirt
curbed by rough concrete, fifty feet
by eight, nothing else. Fishing out
my tour brochure, wiping eyelids with
the back of a hand, I read this is one of
three mass graves for all my kin
Stacked on one another by Grant's men
Denied even a look by Purdy sisters and
mothers -- this trench held 1500. No
headstone because no names were gathered
The National Cemetery at the end was saved
for Union only. The heat of shame closed in
and knocked me down
© Maggie Jochild, 17 January 2005, 8:40 p.m.
(Shiloh, Tennessee Civil War Park)
We like our rivers green or brown, slow
Full of cats, overlaced with serpenty branches,
Rivers resonating horror to the red-haired roots
Of my people who disembarked in Charlestown
Looking for a place not beneath the English
Rivers most definitely not Anglo-Saxon
When my daddy, skinny and auburn
First began doodlebugging
As the greenhorn it was his job
To sit in the prow of that pirogue
As it hesitated into 'Chafalaya
Looking for a legendary salt dome full
Of crude -- Daddy, new guy in the prow
Carried a double-aught to shoot off
Into the trees ahead and above
Dropping hidden cottonmouths into
The water -- If the snakes plopped, pissed
As only moccasins can be, into the boat
It was daddy had to get them out
Not to lose his head and fire away
At the hull or other thighs that
Happened to be near the slithering
Don't tread on me syllabary
How unwelcome we were here
But Europe hadn't wanted us either
Being wanted isn't necessary for
© Maggie Jochild, 20 January 2005, 12:35 p.m.
DADDY CALLED US SPORTSFANS
Daddy called us sportsfans
buddy sister skeezix you
Mama used our names
strung two or three
or shortened to one syllable
or sung as tunes we knew
from tempera-colored plastic records
played on the turntable with
a lid that lifted off after
clicking hasps like suitcase locks
Mama's love turned me inside out
like her blue gardening gloves
her smell and whorls at the end
of each finger-shaped tube
Her organs had pressed my
nose and cheeks into their angles
like piecrust rims the scallop
of her thumb over and over
Something in her pushed me out
Her daily joy but also a lament
because now I could be claimed
by others, imperfect claims not
chosen well or perhaps not chosen
at all, as she did not believe she would
ever have begun the unravel
of our braided heartbeat cord
© Maggie Jochild, 9 June 2005, 6:15 a.m.
I don't remember why the trainers had to come off
but I would bet money it was not because
you asked. My guess is that Daddy was as
always in a hurry to grow you up, you the
afterthought son. While working on the car
he beckoned you over,
selected a snap-on from his box
and with a few wrist turns
there was a bicycle you had to hold up
because the kickstand was long gone.
He carefully put away the wrench,
finished his Camel with a drag, and told you to hop on.
He promised, as he had with me, that he would not let go.
But of course two spaces down the trailer park road
he pulled his hands away from your fender and you were
on your own. Within two strides -- if he had been striding beside you --
a wobble and down you went, crash of metal and dust.
But before Mama could call out from the porch
or Daddy could stop laughing, you were seated again
pumping away. Pump, pump, crash.
Pump, pump, crash. Your hands and knees were bleeding
but your mouth was glued grim
and you did not look back.
After a while it was clear
you were not going to loop our way.
Daddy told me to get my bike
and go after you.
I don't remember what I said to persuade you back.
I do remember blowing on your palms
after mama doused them with monkeyblood
holding them gently between my own hands
© Maggie Jochild, 15 June 2005, 6:09 a.m.
(Bill Barnett in 1964, age six, with Chico)
FORT STOCKTON SECOND GRADE
Bluelipped skinny from asthma, she was
always cold Her dresses were mostly
percale plaid Peter Pan collars
with bodices starched stiff that morning
by her mother with Niagara spray
at the creaking ironing board
She was given cardigans and tights
on days of bitter High Plains cold
The brand new school playground
was concrete, divided into
sharp-eyed clutches of girls, with boys
rowdy and loud at the far edge
They had all been in one class together
She had no friend except Nan Bobbsey
At recess she pleaded to stay in
Work ahead with the Cusenaire rods
After the room was hers, she pulled out
jacks and played with open-mouthed
determination up to her twelvsies
eggs in the basket, pigs in the pen
Everybody got gaga in December
over the Nutcracker, even the boys
seemed to know what it meant
But she guessed her father would move
them again by the New Year, so she
waited it out
© Maggie Jochild, 6 July 2005, 4:45 p.m.
NURTURE VS. NATURE
When Daddy went from diapers to short pants and simple chores
His hair was golden, hanging from his nape in sausage curls
Long and sumptuous, all around his brown-eyed farmboy face
His mama brushed them till they bounced. Held him close
Until the day his Uncle Allie picked him up
Took him to the wagon barn
Rubbed axle grease into each lock, down to scalp
Then set him loose to squall into the house
The only thing his mom could do was cut it off and scrub his burr
It grew in dirty blonde and straight
As Allie climbed into his truck, he said out to the yard
He's a boy. And he ain't yours.
© Maggie Jochild, 16 November 2005, 5:41 p.m.
One Sunday afternoon my daddy
had to fetch a tool from work
I got to ride out with him
The pickup cab smelled like
WD40 and Camels, even with
the windows down to catch
We drove a one-lane gravel road
lined up next to bayou to a shed
which was open walled with
a corrugated roof. Daddy parked
at one side in buttery sand
that sucked at our tires
I was told to wait, so I stood up
in the seat and leaned out the window
Where sand met oily gravel was
the carapace of a big box turtle
bleached white as china but
mounds of breast place still distinct
The sun made it shine
When daddy came back, I pointed
Look, a turtle died
Sit down he said, shifting gears
Turtles die all the time
© Maggie Jochild, 28 January 2006, 7:33 a.m.
AFTER THE TORNADOS
After the tornados, Daddy finally
found us, took us to a motor court
We had dinner at the drive-in
Burger with mayo only for me
I shared fries with my little brother
The air smelled like it was brand new
I didn't know the boy who was killed
Running home from school in the hail
Daddy said he could get our trailer
back on its blocks in the morning
The loudspeaker at the drive-in
played "Never On A Sunday"
My paper straw had red stripes in it
Mama said we could collect insurance
for the cracked windshield, then
use it for new shoes. Daddy said
© Maggie Jochild, 3 July 2007, 10:19 a.m.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
(H.D. Barnett, Army Air Corps, 1945)