Pamela Sumners

Bryce

What room shall we pick for Mother, Father?

All the walls are cinder-block, powder-color

of Easter egg green, one just like another.

I don’t know how we like one over the other.

 

Why did you bring me here, and was it always

right here by the football stadium, in T-Town?

I remember these things: stomped caladiums

in the shade of columns, an Alabama autumn.

 

She’ll have a nice room here at Bryce, he said.

 

There was a place a mile from there, Skyline Drive.

Your cigarette ashes singed my fine hair

on the sidewalk, when you hugged her there,

and I was too small to push your faces together,

just tall enough to trace up to the sixth line

on the cinder blocks at Bryce, to hang in midair

 

between your ashes and a tree on Skyline

Drive, as though I were etching myself there.

I wondered why you’d been so long inside

and left me on the sidewalk, left me behind.

 

Then we took Mother to her nice room at Bryce.

 

Dad told me we were going to Skyline Drive.

You can’t remember Skyline Drive, my sister said.

I was two, but swear to you, I know I was outside.

See—my hair is still on fire from it—all red.

 

You cannot remember these things, she said.

I can, I said.  I can and it set my heart on fire.

You do not possibly recall a thing about Bryce,

she said.  I do, I said.  It made my hair go red.

Still, you were two and can’t remember, she said.

 

For years, they said “Bryce’s,” like it was a cafeteria.

They said Skyline Drive like it was a vacation home.

 

You can’t think this ice-green grade-school block

looks anything like that, they said.  But every day

in class, where teachers went out of their way

to taint me with the hereditary crazy brush,

I remembered the Bryce blocks like my alphabet,

blocks of September.  School and visitor benches

to me were all the same, waiting for something.

 

Sometimes you have to go to Skyline Drive and wait

until they’ve found Mother a very nice room.

 

You do not remember casinos and racetracks

when he left you waiting in a cold, dark car

without a coat, the fogged windows cracked

just enough for some guy to bring you a snack

of French fries.  You thought this is how things are.

 

You started to think too much, remember way

too much, so when you tried to talk one night

in some fleabag dive after he lost the dog races,

he begged that he was old and that he just might

die of exhaustion if you kept on, or a heart attack,

and if he died, you’d have to go to “The Place.” 

 

You shut up because you knew they’d tell you

There is no Skyline Drive, there is no lime wall,

there are no long benches except at church—

Look, you’re alive, let’s not beat a dead horse, y’all.

Talk like that and you’ll go to a nice room at Bryce.

They’ll put him in a hearse and take you to The Place.

 

I remember, I remember, and it makes me more

impermeable than lime walls, more dangerous

than a hairpin turn, ominous as your roll of the dice,

more furious than Southern squalls, as nasty and

stray as an ash that likely foretold my birth from

some Skyline visit.  You bet the house I couldn’t recall.

You forgot: a gambler always overstates his worth.

 

I remember you, rolling everyone like they were dice.

I remember, but I don’t think of you twice.  My thoughts

are with Mother in Fall, shut up in her nice room at Bryce.

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray