Monday, August 4, 2014

Louie Clay


Sit here for a spell, chile,
while I check my pistol.

I don't understand why today
I'm "as nervous as a long-tailed cat
in a room full of rockin chairs,"
as Hattie always says.

I hide it under a blue shawl
in the top drawer of my shifferobe,
but I keep imagining that Hattie
or the yard boy might swipe it.

You know how they are, good people,
but you can't really trust them.

It's still there.

My, I'm testy. Must be those cucumbers.
I love them but they don't love me.
Always bite back, and make me bite too.

My boy Dean shoulda given me target practice,
I asked him to, but he paid me no nevermind.
Hard-headed as his daddy. He said,

"Nobody would wanta harm a nice old lady."

Humph. So he thought,
but I don't believe it one bit— not that I'm nice,
not that nobody would want to harm me neither.

Funny how sentimental he gets bout me,
but mean as a snake about anyone else.

My boy done grown, still never notices
that he got his temper from me,
as shore as you be sittin in that swing.

Won't you have some more cake?
I cut only four squares
but I can always get some more.

Sides, your mama hinted on the phone
that she might like to have the real thing,
even though I already given her
the recipe five times, if wunst.

And I know she has the checkerboard pan
because Beth give her one two Christmases ago,
lessen she done give it to somebody else.

Dean used to fire in the gully down back
every weekend. I loved to hear the rounds—
something pure, something clear
when a bullet cuts through air.

Sometimes I wish Dean had never gone off.
Other people can audit for the State.
I want him here.

His father didn't do me right neither,
dying before he taught me to protect myself,
after he done bossed the county Klan
through 1926, its biggest lynching season.

I never know who, swillin white lightnin,
might remember John's devilment,
even now, twenty years later,
and decide I'm better game than John's ghost
or that headstone of his that vandals
already ricocheted half the marble off,
up behind the Presbyterians.

Now that's fittin, if I do say so,
him up there with them, predestined like,
birds of a feather, even if he did sneak in
only because our Baptist church
put off buying the lot next door
until Mr. Gilliland wanted too much for it.

Have another piece, chile, really!
The yellow squares are the richest,
made with lemon and cheeze.

That swing shore puts up a racket, don't it?
It's gettin rickity like the rest of us.

Oh don't go so soon! Leastways let me get a jar
so you can take your mama some of that lemonade.
It's no trouble. You just sit there.

I'll be right back.

Sides, I want to check that pistol one more time.

Louie reads "Visiting My Great Aunt, Maude":

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Louie confesses: "I used bits and pieces from childhood. My great-uncle was a KKK leader, but my great-aunt and I never had this conversation. I did see her pistol. My parents sheltered me from the KKK connection until I was 25. I'm glad. When a child, I might have turned criminals into heroes."

LOUIE CLAY (né Louie Crew) is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,340 of his manuscripts, including four poetry volumes. You can follow his work at

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