Tallulah Sits Beside Me on the Banks of the Cahaba River and Sneers, What the Devil’s in This God-Awful Call to “Roll Tide”?
We are naked, in costume jewelry. I’ve brought her to Fairy Rock,
My old girl scout hiding spot, because I want to live with her here.
She will be my evil flower, and I swear to you I will be hers.
The night is quiet, which is rare for Alabama. Nothing shrieks
In the sweet gums, except her question. Football is not my sport,
And she’s stopped going on about baseball and Willie Mays.
We want to fizzle. She twirls her hands through the praising ferns,
And I watch aroused. Well, certainly Alabama isn’t all mud puddle!
Just look at me! Oh, Darling! Whatever chigger bit me, I bit back! she says.
Then, she cackles, and her clavicle looks as if it will unbuckle.
She is a haunted house. When her bones come to rest, I look at her and smile,
Knowing the laugh is a yowl, a hurt she’s been trying to drown for years,
Knowing that whether it is football cheer, prayer circle,
Or campaign slogan, we’ve both been thrown to the wolves.
Lightning bugs marquee the air. My left hand flips from my thigh
And lands at her side. I do not want to speak, so I touch her, put my hand
To her heart. The night is cool and so is her breast. I lift the strands
They’ve laced about her. I want to unbind. Each pearl is a word—
Deluxe and dogmatic. I pull them off, all that we’ve let slip, from their mouths
Into ours. We aren’t their daughters. She pulls at what is at my neck.
We shed all that is left and hold it out, before our eyes. We drink our breaths.
Then, we take their ropes, their glint and government, and lower them down,
Past the studious roots and gawking catfish holes, past snapping turtle sermons,
Until they fall from our fingers, into the gag of waters.
Carrie Chappell: Loving Tallulah Bankhead. Paris Heretics, 2022 (illustrated by Lauren Patterson).