Past the starting line in Louisville, Dixie’s a six-lane tangle, car lots made carnival—balloons and barkers, cheap strings of lights and triangle flags—then discount recliners, country kitchen oak, concrete ducks dressed in bonnets for your lawn, racks and racks of knock-off jeans, knock-off bags, and for the working man, manly bins of wife-beaters and white tube socks. Dixie is all-you-can-eat—ribeye, T-bone, sirloin— you pick your own piece of meat—and the buffet ends soft-serve, sprinkles in every color for the kids. Here, the highway’s bottomless, buy-one-get-one- free, come on down to Big Tom’s, we’ll do ya up right, until the road bends to girls with big tiddies and bad teeth, girls doing best they can at Dixie’s Trixie and Go-Go-Derby Gals. When we drove past, it was always breakfast time, the trucks still parked in those gravel lots looking terrible lonely in broad morning light.
Outside town, Kentucky was all winter, mud wind-whipped to beige ice and trees brittled bone, the lanes blood-smeared deer and stray dog, and on walls of rock blasted from the mountain, limestone wept long stalactites of frozen white.
Because my body was small, I still fell asleep to rocking things and dreamt to the tires’ pop n churn, pop n churn waiting for Fanny to say wake now up, Koey hours later when Tennessee pines greened things up again. Next came the long fingers of moss haunting Savannah’s branches, then came orange groves, miles and miles of fruit polka-dotting the waxy sheen. Finally, a miracle—a wonder Like a troll doll spun on a pencil’s eraser end—growing not out of dirt or clay or what men tracked in on boots, but from clean, easy-to-sweep-away sand, a tree without leaves that fall and need to be raked but fronds, the kind cut and braided at church Sunday before the capital-S son goes and dies all over again.
We’ll go with Fanny, and we’ll go to the beach every day, all our problemsgone, Mama said, because at the end of Dixie’s The Florida Turnpike,at the end of the turnpike’s the sea.
We took Dixie because Dixie was made for a car like Fanny’s, a car that preferred old highway, a car that wanted nothing to do with needless speed, a car that was built to coal-barge glide, owning the damn road.
It was a Cadillac, her El Dorado, a car impossibly long with impossible fins, white and waxed and gassed ready-chrome-go, the interior kid glove in Atomic Red, a climate-controlled bomb shelter, an escape hatch, an automobile called home. The factory mats were replaced with white shag rugs, and because I was a child, I was allowed to be the little animal I was, curled up and hiding in that woolen nest behind the driver’s seat. Up front, my matriarchal line laughed and cussed and flicked so many cigarettes
we were our own comet, tiny red stars sparking down that road.
Dixie starts in burning cold, in gas stations where you have to ask for the bathroom key and the man hands you one chained to a hubcap that opens the kind of toilet Mama and Fanny say not to touch with a ten-foot pole. They suspend me over, my arms hooked around each of their necks and their arms holding my legs. I am a little girl made cable car, a cloud high above, I am a giggle of weightlessness until Fanny says, Enough now, pee.
Later, bathrooms don’t get any cleaner, but each state has treasure to sell—in Tennessee, it’s homemade lemon drops and cast iron to shape cornbread into little fish; in Georgia, it’s billboards for Pecans, Peanuts, Peaches every five miles though all we buy is a bologna sandwich that gives Mama the shits. Across the final line, it’s saltwater taffy in every Miami-Vice shade, and Roy Rogers welcomes weary travelers with stale biscuits and sticky showers and Pac-Man machines. Mama gives me some quarters, whispers,
You see? I knew it. Even the reststops are better, everything’s getting so green and warm and clean.
How many times did we make the trip, Kentucky to Florida and back? So many I can honestly say maybe that long tar-patch highway is where I was raised. It was a move we made whenever we could, more times than I care to count; it was a chance to leave behind the men and the cold; it was a long stretch with Howard Johnson’s in between. Ho-Jo’s is only place clean enough to sleep, Fanny said, and once my weary drivers drifted off
I’d sneak out to the hotel pool, slip under the surface, hold my breath, open my eyes to the blue lit from within. Amniotic, a mermaid then, a girl with nothing but sunshine ahead, without a clue as far as we got, wherever we went, there we would find ourselves, there we would still be.
From Nickole Brown’s Fanny Says: Poems, published by BOA Editions, Ltd, Rochester, NY, 2015.
Nickole Brown grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and Deerfield Beach, Florida. Her books include Fanny Says, a collection of poems published by BOA Editions in 2015; her debut, Sister, a novel-in-poems published by Red Hen Press in 2007; and an anthology, Air Fare, that she co-edited with Judith Taylor. She graduated from The Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She worked at the independent, literary press, Sarabande Books, for ten years, and she was the National Publicity Consultant for Arktoi Books and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. She has taught creative writing at the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, and was on faculty at the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until deciding to write full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry at White Pine Press and is on faculty at the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State and at the Writing Workshops in Greece. In May of 2016, she will be moving to Asheville, North Carolina, to live with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.
BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month
If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.