by Joyce Thornburg

Clean yourself up a little, she
barks. R.P. will be here soon.

Her baby brother,
Ruben Powell Scott, Jr.,
will visit on his birthday.

I pull my good jeans out
of my suitcase.

Mama’s living room is spotless. Shards
of late autumn light slip
through venetian blind blades.
They throw shadows on “The Last Supper”
above the sofa.

You would think Mama had a new
Cadillac the way she talks about her
new walker: This is how I turn corners—
it has gears—see!

Her bony fingers grip the handles like
a child learns to ride a bicycle.

From the kitchen, a smell of something burning.
Dern! (Mama’s favorite word) My pinto beans!
We are going to eat them anyway—

At the kitchen table, we gorge
on the beans, corn bread
and left-over squash casserole.
Mama pours fresh brewed tea into
glasses of ice.

R.P. is far away in reverie—
chuckles-almost chokes.
He turns to Mama—
Remember when Uncle Ham
ate a bar of soap
in his jail cell. Then drank
a glass of water so he would
foam at the mouth?
Better a mad man than
a bad man, he reckoned.

Joyce Thornburg is a visual artist with a working studio in the River Arts District.
Her passion for poetry has developed and deepened through participation in several
Great Smokies Writing classes.

About GRIT—Recalling a visit with my mother and uncle when they were both in their late eighties, this poem is the latest in a series of family poems about growing up in the Deep South.