This town has a rusted roof gas station,
a store shelf where you would find
charm and shame sitting side-by-side,
as inseparable as lovebugs,
buy-one-get-one for the last 50 years.

You can still buy a scratcher ticket – or twelve,
and sit, welcomed, on the sidewalk
with your dreams of a less-debted life,
or watch as barefoot beauties walk west to work,
carrying babies bulging with
Dollar General budget-nutrition.

Don’t forget your manners if you’re just visitin’,
one proper and polite nod to say,
“just like my daddy did,”
to all those with their collars blue
just like the sky-paint on the gulf.

“Poor, rural, and southern”,
is meant by most
to sound scary and scabbed
just like the shallow intimidation
of pitbull pups scratching and slobbering
against their chain-link boundary lines.
But to me it sure looks a lot like
lovin’ and learnin’ that the things
worth having take the most time,
saturating slowly like sun tea
brewin’ in the porch-pitcher.

I spent a decade patting makeup
onto the warm red tones of my neck
to conceal a crime of culture,
instead of questioning
why moving up
had to mean moving away.

These memories had a lesson for me,
like a neighbor pulling my ear
back to my mother for new wisdom,
chastising me for talking to strangers,
forgetting my manners,
and not listening to my father.

These memories are like mangrove mud,
hugging my ankles until I am stalled,
anchoring me to mindfulness of a moment
tinged with something sour,
like that sulfuric smell across the marshes,
that is hard to romanticize – yet still cues a smile,
when its rotten earthiness tells me that I am home.

It is only in this pause,
the stillness before a shifting tide,
when I can clearly recall and recite
the scripture –
the allegory of me,
and where it was written.

It was composed here;

In the nimble thank you wave,
at a neighbor kind or neglectful enough
to turn an eye as I swiped citrus slices
from yard overhangs,
to rub into my vulgar mouth,
with dirty hands.

On the sweet-wind steeped from
magnolia blooms and orange blossoms,
the perfect perfume to compliment
a blushing heat-sick face.

It was spoken over the rumble of thunder,
during the can’t-miss primetime storm watch,
hurricane season 2004,
sung with the intoxicating breaths
of the gulf stream,
scented with pheromonic petrichor.

They say that one man’s white trash
is another’s treasured upbringing,
and through the catharsis of return,
a lowbrow renaissance,
I know both to be true.

My only infallible faith is in the
beauty visible from the gutter,
and I will celebrate each day
in the midst of a perennial
impoverished holiday,
like the Christmas lights draped
on fences, roofs, and trailer tops,
hanging on with staple-gun hugs,
all year ‘round.

Elizabeth Curley

Elizabeth Curley lives a dual life as both a poet and a social work researcher. Elizabeth received a Silver Medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2012 and is still writing a decade later. Elizabeth’s time is spent consuming, collecting, carrying, crafting, and quantifying the human experience.

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