Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sixteen Center by Donika Kelly

Sixteen Center

Last week, an insurrection,
yesterday, the second impeachment,
and this evening of slurry and wind
that makes the old dog wary, I call
my grandpa, my mama’s daddy, to ask
why we called his parents’ land 16 Center.
He doesn’t know! And he laughs,
can fathom no reason but his daddy’s
drunk whimsy and charisma in the naming
of those twenty acres of Arkansas backwoods,
those pastures and good timber a mile
down Columbia County Road 14.
Nor does he remember how to call a hog.
Nor does he remember who first called
him Billy, as much his name now as Sam
and for nearly as long. We leave what is forgotten
behind us easily enough, detour
through what rough country he can recall:
his uncle Sonny Boy taking him west to live
in Vegas; his grandma, Ma Gladys, in L.A.
rescuing him from Vegas; his baby sister shot,
and him thirteen, holding her feet at the hospital
down in Haynesville as she died; his many jobs;
his longest love; an outline, a sketch he’s drawn
before that I want to fix in my mind. I know
my questions rarely resolve past treble: I talk
too fast, too high, am nearly unintelligible
to him, yet we pass an hour this way.
He offers some measure of a past
we do not share, and it’s easier to let be
what is lost, to put down what I never carried.

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