The Idea of Order in Arkansas
By Terrell Tebbetts
“. . . for here was a woman with a civilizing mission.”
Junot Díaz in The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wau
“Please don’t tell my mama” peals again
from Mikey’s puckered mouth—
as when at five he did a Mondrian
with scavenged paint, the neighbors’ new-laid brick
inviting like a canvas, or when at six
he aimed his broomstick bat at hanging ferns
enticing him along another neighbor’s porch.
But now, at nine, he’s practiced war
by lobbing rock grenades at Gracie when
she pedaled past his cardboard fort.
“Please don’t tell my mama!”
Yet every time his plea has fallen flat,
for Mama’s heard, and then while Daddy’s
bagging ducks or stalking deer
or scoping out wild turkey, Mama’s
marched her noble savage to the scene
of malefaction to see that he atones
with wadded birthday dollars, downcast eyes,
and murmurs of apology—to learn,
she’s hoped, the self-restraint that saves
us from a Hobbesian collapse.
This time, as Mikey turns to trudge back home,
apology complete, he seems like David
being sculpted from our Ozark clay,
Mama scooping out the flaws
till every excess splatters to the floor,
to manifest at last magnificence
which only she now sees.
Terrell Tebbetts holds the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature at Lyon College. He has published some two dozen poems in a variety of journals and over four dozen articles on American literature in several books and in journals such as Philological Review, Southern Literary Journal, The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, The Steinbeck Review, Mississippi Quarterly, and The Faulkner Journal.