In the letter I wrote to myself in kindergarden, I said I wanted to be a veterinarian and go to NC State. I got one of those goals accomplished, but learned rather quickly that the only thing I loved about biology was dissecting a frog. It seemed my grandfather’s frog catching rubbed off in the classroom. Fried frog legs are a delicacy in the Shealy house.
The world should have known I was coming out to write when my father found me making Poetry Anthologies for class projects. It seemed this was also during my Wizard of Oz phase if that spiked raggedy-ann is in fact a scarecrow. You never know though, it could just be a creature of the night. I believe the green thing is a UFO. I wasn’t only into far away places like Oz, but faraway places like Mars.
I liked to think I was more neat when I was in second grade. I like to think I was born with these immense organizational skills that I use in my classroom, however it seems I dealt easily with scratched out letters and wrinkled paper. It gets better.
My spelling was probably the best part of my childhood writing. Turtle became tortul, which is another form of the word “torture.” It all becomes clear to me in the spelling of that word. I clearly wasn’t riddled with enemies, but “emenies.” I don’t even want to think about how I would sound out “sea anemones.” Too bad Nemo wasn’t out when I was a small child. We had to stick with the “There once was a…” Disney Princess movies.
Now I write poems and stories about Southern women and their deep history of waiting. Women who have spent retirement listening to the heartbeat of a rocking chair, the creak and thump. Women who can rub their fingers together to make the sound of a cricket’s switch back legs. Girls with the patience of a firefly. Women who wear shawls of weight across their shoulders while they watch pastures dry. Back then I wrote poems about “losers” and “emenies.” I wrote limericks about ducks named “qwuackers” because I knew somewhere in the cobblestones of my brain that U came somewhere after Q most of the time. There’s definitely a W in there though when you sound it out, really gives it that onomatopoeia.
We should probably talk about how perfect my cursive is. What happened to students knowing how to sign their name at the bottom of a check? Apparently that’s of no use anymore because we live in a world of instant credit cards and square machines. Well, back then, I had the cursive of a “Dear John” letter. I had the cursive of a man’s dusty pocket, folded into the square of his chest. I wonder what a hand-writing analysis would say about this cursive.
If the poem to your right is “the fourth worst pome I ever ritted” than what were the three before that? I need to practice my cursive in order to figure that one out. Maybe these poems came in my later years when I thought I was a poet writing about college boys and the way they open their whole mouth to kiss as if they’re rewriting Moby Dick.
I just like that this poem discusses a farmer’s wife who is highlighted in the majority of my latest short stories. The wives in my stories carry around mud in the cracks of their boots. They pick the clumps with a butter knife underneath their kitchen tables. Eat with those same mud-caked hands. I’m writing these women still. I must have had an inkling of this in second grade. I must have known myself, led lives before this one where I lived on a cattle farm and found milking a religious experience. Did I know then that lives later I would write to be.
My characters are telling a story of ages. A story of a second grade girl who loved poetry so much that she made a glitter cover page and wrote each poem in her best cursive. What she didn’t know was that she’d be staying up nights after work to get the story down. She’d be writing a marsh stranded with Carolina girls who knew what waiting felt like, holding heat in their crossed arms.