The Olivers by Janice Tatter
They lived among thick pines off Baseline Road,
its smell as penetrating as love, their unfinished
house always under construction, Claudia’s father
of sawdust, sweat, her mother’s apron
smeared with chicken blood, the grandmother
swathed in musty and wood-bleached furniture
in a small house beside theirs. Like sisters,
Claudia and I wandered through the pines,
tasted iron in water, wondered if we’d rust inside.
Sometimes we hunted for God, pretended we found
him under the rafters. While we sat under the trees
building a house with rocks and pine needles,
we recited Bible verses we’d memorized.
When Tony the rooster disappeared from the yard,
I refused to eat fried chicken for supper
and Mrs. Oliver made me a bologna sandwich.
At night sometimes we ate watermelon
down to the white rind, pink juice staining
our clothes, our fingers sticky with sweetness
and the next day we helped Mrs. Oliver make
watermelon rind preserves. She always trusted
us as we filled the jar. I like to watch her
mop the floor, her lips moving without sound
like a day’s invisible rhythm, the morning light
filling her face as if she were the subject
of a painting.
I didn’t realize I had been so lonely that summer
until I stayed there for six weeks. Long ago
the Oliver’s house was finally built, grandmother
dead, the pine grove thinner, the tree stump
long dried with blood where Mrs. Oliver
used to chop off chicken heads, I revered
their simplicity, this family like I’d suddenly
discovered a music that spoke only to me.
Her mother became my own that summer
when my mother had been so sick. I remember
how Mrs. Oliver sang about Jesus as she braided
my hair, held me as if I completed her when I told her
I wanted her to be my mother.
Janice tatter has an M.A. in English with Emphasis in Creative Writing from Ohio University. In 2006 Janice's first book of poetry REMEMBERING THE TRUTH was published by Temenos Publishing Company. In April 2009 her chapbook COMMUNION OF VOICES PUBLISHED was by Big Table Publishing Company. Her poems have been published in several journals such as Poesia, Southern Hum, Red River Review, and Alimentum, (as menupoems).
Janice and her partner recently moved from Little Rock, Arkansas to New Haven, Connecticut.
This is Janice's 2nd appearance in Up the Staircase.