Tar Babies

We swung from tree branches like apes, our shirtless bodies not girlish with breasts that might develop in a few years, but gangly–protruding ribs that lined our chests. We broke mirrors and jammed their fractured pieces into the bark–we created a wonderland where the trees nourished us alongside its leave with sunlight, and the sun bred fireflies that would have stood the Texas summer heat. We filled our stomachs with imaginary dishes and pretended we hosted cooking shows.

First pick the grass, then stir in the dirt, and wait ten minutes. Smell it to check if it’s right. It should have an Earthy smell.  

I’d read the complete tales of Uncle Remus over and over again until I could recite the stories by heart. I lined up my stuffed animals for the performance: “I know it don’t seem right, since Br’er Possum didn’t have a thing to do with the disappearance of the butter. But that’s the way of the world. ” We filled the empty house by turning on music and dancing for hours. We filled the empty cupboards with paper dolls, with paper–written poems, written prayers–taped inside. The door swung open on display:

For every cup and plateful, Lord make us truly Grateful

We were always grateful–especially of each other. My sister and I held hands walking to the bus stop. At lunch, we slid those hands under the glass display and filled our pockets with cafeteria biscuits. They were the pirates gold that we’d survey together on the bus ride home. We never got caught. And we held hands walking back down the lost dirt driveway. At night, we would change into our pajamas, and put ourselves to bed. Even if we had two rooms, we always slept together.

We would play a game at as we intertwine our legs and lay really still, whispering so no one would hear. We built our nest out of blankets and pillows and huddled together. Our chipmunk mother would be home soon, but while we waited, we would plan the next day’s scavenging. we would collect and store our food to keep it safe for the winter. We would tuck cookies in our underwear drawers, and hide cheese in the heater vents. Our stashes did not always fair so well when dairy products began rotting in the vents of our mobile home.

We felt pain but didn’t know we did not know we were hungry.

That emptiness was just a part of being young, it left space for the joy and hope. It left room for romance. My hunger pangs fueled my imagination: Laying on the particleboard floor at nine years old gently touching my stomach. I’m pregnant. I smiled and hummed to her, caressing where I imagined her foot was pressing against the inside of my skin.

We didn’t fill our childhood sitting at the table learning manners. We never learned how to hold a fork properly, how to sit without wiggling. We became excellent readers, and fierce scrabble players. We learned to carve our names in the dirt, so that by the time we were twelve, we had the signature any 30-year-old would envy.

Somehow, we always knew the food would come. But being hungry for us, was believing in God. We never knew when or where, but it always came. And when it did, we celebrated: Canned spam pan seared in stewed tomatoes, a delicacy we read our in our books.

Most families celebrate around Christmas meals, but we celebrated around every meal. And Christmas was no different; we delighted in our cinnamon apples as we sat on a living room floor with no chairs. Just apples. Our mother’s hair smells like cinnamon.

Ashes, Ashes

Brother Underwood