Lois had cancer in one of her legs.
She tilted when she walked.
She said the pain wasn’t too much to gripe about.
On white winter days it slowed her up a bit.
Lois didn’t like the snow.
She liked Africa. She craved hot, windy jeep rides
in the jungle, her leg propped up with a brown leather strap
to hold it steady, to make her look like a tough old gal.
She read hardback books about Africa when she ate,
hefty nonfiction works, far bigger than her meals.
Lois liked eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
She liked Coca-Cola, and raisins.
If she’d lived in Africa, she would have been a forager,
a berry picker. Yes, she would be Lois, Nairobi Princess,
stepping outside and smelling yellow fruits,
knowing just where to find them, just how to eat them,
seeds and skin.
She would know where to walk in Kenya.
But not here. Not in this frigid hemisphere.
Here, Lois, while crossing a street against a quick yellow light
one March, was hit too hard by a Buick.
There was color in her death, a red not so real to her
as the rest of us might see.
Lois, Bus Rider of #3 Elm Street,
in the city of Springfield-proper,
wedged beneath the front
bumper of a bright blue car,
had finally found her place
in this twisted scheme of ordinary things.
Here was the passage to holy Africa.
At the Table
—on the eve of the 2020 election
They shut ole Trudy down, Mom said
over 40 years ago.
Trudy had been Mom’s fortune teller,
Mom’s one to tell the truth about, and to.
They closed up her practice
since she was doing readings
over a dead chicken,
Mom explained to me as we were drinking tea
when I was in my 20s.
The health department in Joplin, it had been,
that shut old Trudy down.
Did she use the same white chicken?
I wondered, and still do.
Flies collecting on flesh, over and over. Again.
It never hit me until a few years back—
Trudy probably slit that poor fowl’s
throat so she could glean a glimpse of future.
Women paid good money, in the 60s,
to sit beside the blood of something other than a lamb—
to watch an elder woman who must have smelled
of purple talc and liniment, speak above the dead.
She—this trusted one—would convince,
reveal to them what they wished
they might find easier to tell themselves.
All is as it should be.
Your children will be all. Right.
Watch out for a woman with a white vinyl bag
on her arm if she also wears white vinyl shoes—
pumps with two- or three-inch heels, plastic
torn and dented. She wears red lipstick, but
not that of a cool blue tint. No, she wears red
in shades of yellow, though her skin calls out
for something far less warm. She sports short jean
skirts with wide belts, vinyl and brown in color.
She wears, most often, a silver-toned cross,
either hung from a bracelet or a neck chain
cut only just too tight, Ozark-bound.
Her hair smells of Aqua Net or White Rain,
pungent, stale and bitter.
Watch out for this woman with the white vinyl bag
because, when she decides to crack it open,
spill the contents on your kitchen table after an evening
beside you in your backroom bed,
you’ll be witness to all that’s inside her—
not just inside her purse.
Pepper spray that’s a few years old,
tampons with wrappers torn from them
like peels from bananas,
breath mints, loose from foil, covered
in matted hair and lint.
You’ll find, scattered in the pitch,
wadded tissues, half-used,
open boxes of old raisins, once gold—
now purple with color from uncapped
lip pencils, eye liners, mascara.
There will be, in the mix, an old leather
coin purse, pieced together from remnants
on a warehouse floor.
The purse will hold nickels, dimes,
but no copper pennies. No quarters for this
woman with one white vinyl bag, vinyl shoes—
this woman who, last night, begged
you to call your house her home.
Jenny Crews was born in Joplin, Missouri, and moved to Springfield where she has lived since she was twelve (except for a one-year stint in Austin, Texas, back in the 80s). In 2017 she retired from Missouri State University where she served as Director of Prospect Management and Research in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. She is also a Missouri State University Alumna, having received a BA in English/Creative Writing in 1996.