My parents lied to the airline, said I was five. Rules
were made to be broken when convenient, when
getting rid of me, when I needed to be old enough
to fly alone. The stewardess gave me wings. The pilot
showed me the cockpit, my first view of cerulean sky.
I was four. I flew south. For the summer, I was sent
to Carson, California where I ate cinnamon
toast, drank chocolate milkshakes for breakfast made
each morning by my stoned and seventeen Aunt Lawana,
who embodied the fearlessness I would always crave.
First rule: Granny refused to let Jolene be played
in her house. Said it was about a cheatin’ woman
and no good would ever come of that filthy song.
One night, after a bucket of fried chicken, I caught
her singing a verse or two. Bad memories got stuck
down deep in her throat, ‘til she nearly choked
to death and Pa had to save her. He gave her
a can of Fresca, bought her endless bags of yarn
to knit dresses for her toilet paper dolls, living
like banished woman in the bathroom, breathing.
Granny rubbed tobacco into my skin so I would know
how to always soothe a sting. Pa filled the Doughboy
pool so I could float on my back beneath the pomegranate
trees. So I could throw my dreams up to the sun, hoping
in September the truthful sky would carry me home.
David-Matthew Barnes is the award-winning author of several novels and collections of stage plays, monologues, scenes, and poetry. His poetry has been featured in The Comstock Review, The Magnolia Review, Memoryhouse, Sonic Boom, The Southeast Review, and more. He was selected by Kent State University as the national winner of the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Award. He has been an arts educator for more than a decade. For more information, please visit http://www.davidmatthewbarnes.com.