Monday, November 24, 2014

#149: "Where I Come From a Hushpuppy Is Not a Shoe" by R.T. Smith

~This essay was previously published in Zoetrope (2006).

     Whenever I hear the commentators on National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” series professing their admirable commitment to honor, family ties, work or poetry or the kindness of strangers, I always think, “This is all very nice and inspiring, but have these people heard of hushpuppies?”  While other splendors and necessities improve, adorn and propel the world, the hushpuppy is the sine qua non, the raison d’etre and probably the prime directive in various other languages whose irregular verbs I have never attempted to conjugate.  From my personal standpoint, the deep-fried hushpuppy ranks right up there with good health, a loving mate, rewarding work and spiritual fulfillment.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the kind of zealot who is blind to humanity’s other achievements.  I also believe wholeheartedly in the hand brake, the rifled muzzle, the King James Version, vasectomies, single-barrel aging and hybrid roses.  Those vital developments notwithstanding, the hushpuppy as conceived and consumed in the rural South is crux and hub and core.
     Now I’m not about to define “hushpuppy” in some partisan and proprietary way, though it is kissing cousin to a fritter, neighbor to cornbread and a far cry from a crepe.  I’m not even going to dictate how to concoct the ideal knee-knocking, unforgettable, whiplashing-scrumptious hushpuppy, other than to recommend some basic components and say that you’ve got to tickle the oil right up to about 400 degrees, which is also the temperature the mercury will register if you stick a thermometer under the tongue of most anyone in my family when their ire is aroused.  Our tribe’s tendency to run hot and express our displeasure in unruly and emphatic fashion should right away clarify a couple of things: the oral method is the only fever measurement method worth trying on us, and don’t stand between us and anything we prize or favor, especially our preferred provender.  But don’t get me wrong here; we are neither rabid nor deranged, only enthusiastic.
     My family at one time, individually and collectively, knew how to make a hushpuppy so delicious it would make you cut a buck and wing and forswear indoor sports and week-night church.  Although we would happily savor them in screen-porch fish camps – from Dowd’s Catfish on the Flint River in Georgia to the piratical Riverview Inn between Charlotte and Gastonia – it was the homemade item directly out of the deep fryer or skillet that hit the godspot.  And of course, being in such proximity to the source, you’d always snatch up the first one out of the inferno and burn your tongue; that’s a requisite step in the rite.  Try as you might to take the fire in and not receive a wound – like Isaiah himself with the smoking ember – you’d blister up and shout to Jesus and fan your mouth faster than a hummingbird’s wings.  Meanwhile, you might be consoled by the fact that there’s a little “bliss” in “blister.”  Then you’d blow on the bitten hushpuppy, shut your eyes in wonder and take another bite.  I used to marvel, given the abundance of local wonders, that no one has ever claimed to discover the face of our Savior in the features of a fresh hushpuppy, because we do not live by bread alone.  But who would delay consumption to conduct a finicky investigation?  What hushpuppy survives long enough to be thus perused and pondered?  Now you see it, now you don’t.  We may save slices of wedding cake in the freezer or gallstones in a jelly jar of formaldehyde on the mantel, but the hushpuppy enjoys less longevity than your average caddis fly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#148: "Rockabye" by Dave Housley

~This story was previously published in Hobart: Another Literary Journal (2011).

Episode 1:
     We see Daddy on Sundays at lunch. Sometimes Wednesdays, too, from eight until nine, if Mommy lets us watch the reruns. 
     This season it's harder to get her to let us watch. Last time, Mommy didn’t care. For awhile, she even thought it was funny. In the first episode, when Daddy came walking out with his new hair and his eyes with make-up like the TV ladies, Mommy yelled "ohmygod" and almost spilled her wine and then called Aunt Lisa and shouted into the phone so much I almost couldn't hear Daddy explaining how he was looking for his real, one and only Rockin’ Rockabye Baby and how he'd have to send one sexy lady home each week, and how this time he really wanted to find love.
    Mommy thought that was the funniest part of all.
    This year, Mommy says no way are we watching. “Why would you want to watch that?” she says.
   “It’s Daddy,” I say.
    She makes that huffy sound like she thinks something is funny but really she doesn’t. “You're not old enough to watch this stuff,” she says. 
    “Old enough like Sixx?” I say, and without trying I look toward my brother’s room.
    “I shouldn’t have let you guys watch this show last year,” she says, looking at Sixx’s door and then down at the floor.
    “It's Daddy,” I say.
     Mommy makes the funny noise again, shakes her head and lights a cigarette right in the house. But she lets me watch.
     Later that night when she thinks I’m sleeping, I can hear Mommy watching Daddy in the living room.

Monday, November 3, 2014

#147: "Done" by Mark Wisniewski

~This poem was previously published in River Styx (2011).


she'd heard I had
an agent & asked me to dinner
& I ate
the dinner with
her & she'd heard I'd lived
in only one room & asked
if she could
see it & I said the couple
who owned the house with the room
forbade visitors
since they wanted to keep
their 2 small
daughters from even the sound
of what people who lived
in one room did with people willing
to visit
but it was now well
past the daughters'
bedtime & the house proved dark
the couple presumably
upstairs & I'd grown tired
of myself in the room
so I whispered "let's time our
footfalls" & soon we were
in & I closed the door
turned on the light
she stepped to my desk
read a letter
from the agent
removed her blouse
got on the bed
on her hands
& knees slid the panties
down her thighs
whispered to say she cared
only about whether I
liked it which made it harder
to like
through most of it I felt
used & sure I'd end up
homeless & when I was
done she stood
upright & dressed facing away
kissed my mouth &
tiptoed out
that agent never selling
a word of mine
those 2 daughters maybe
now married & divorced
perhaps about to learn how
it can all happen
in one room