Finding Helen. Poems by Pamela L. Sumners, selected by Dan Vera & Ron Mohring as Number 13 in our Rane Arroyo Series.
Publication: April 18, 2021 [100 copies]
Pamela Sumners’ work has been published or recognized by about 40 journals or publishing houses in the US and abroad since 2018. She was a 2018 Pushcart nominee and was selected by Halcyone/Black Mountain Press for inclusion in 64 Best Poets in 2018 and 2019. Her first poetry collection, Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones, was published by UnCollected Press in December 2020. Finding Helen is her first chapbook. Sumners is well known for her constitutional and civil rights legal work, including cases opposing Jay Sekulow, Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore, Supreme Court wannabe Bill Pryor, and an Alabama governor who argued that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to Alabama. A native Alabamian, she now lives in St. Louis with her wife, son, and rescue dogs. Find more at her website.
Eternal Soliloquy from Elmwood
This plot of ground is a bruised & battered soil.
It contains the worm-tossed remains of one
Helen K. Alexander, who was my Southern
Gothic mother. Jerry, my brother, is butt-up on her stone,
though we all know that Jerry was the one
who very likely broke her neck. He uneasily rests
in a plot owned by my aunt, whose name was Justice.
She gave it because, like most of Jerry’s plans,
his VA spot poof! mysteriously disappeared, just as,
when he talked your grandmother out of her last
dollar, and the last dime of that dollar slung itself
from his pocket onto the counter of a tavern
& not a cent of it into businesses he said he ran.
For him, either a bar or this simple “Justice” stone
would have been an appropriate retirement home.
She’s buried here in the iron-making Magic City,
the Big Bad ‘Ham that’s practicing gritting its teeth
until that day we all come to Elmwood’s rusty gates.
My mother’s life rushed by in a breathless, gushing whoosh,
with the crushing velocity of a locomotive engine.
She shrieked her truth about how my father drove 500 miles
to shake the trees & their hardheaded leaves
after she’d just this afternoon raked the yard & garden
and how my father’s feet stank “like nothing in this world,”
maybe like a mummy’s would smell if he were unfurled
in your living room with its plastic-covered mohair couch
and how a lady is known by her posture so don’t slouch
and don’t ever sleep with men boys you’re not married to,
and go easy on the rouge & never smoke or spit on the street
and don’t pop that gum because everybody knows that’s trashy too . . .
On this plot of ground, this raggedy patch of Elmwood Cemetery
she still is chattering her eternal grief & lingering query
of why Aunt Inez had them sneak in & bend her up & take her
to the Place when she’d never been sick a day in her life
and even if she was it was your stink-footed, tree-throttling father’s
fault. He put her in this vault as surely as he’d made her a nervous
wreck & himself broken her neck. About three yards across an asphalt
path, the lady under the mushroom headstone turns in her sleep
and, next to her, grizzled ol’ Bear Bryant rolls, shivers, and creaks.