Iâ€™ll speak to you, and you to me, together, in praise.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Brian Oliu An Introduction
Andrew Grace The Storm, In Fragments
Jason McCall Forest Lake
Red Cross Blood Drive at the Northport DCH Medical Center What is Lost in a Simile
Tuscaloosa Triolet Food World
29 30 31 32
Location: 33° 12′ 24″ N, 87° 32′ 5″ W
Juan Carlos Reyes
the bama bolero
Two Years in Tuscaloosa
Jeremy Allan Hawkins
It Did Water the Land
Falling in Love, With Chorizo
Water Always Leaves The Knife
Pia Simone Garber
To Tuscaloosa— Late Harvest
56 65 66
Joseph P. Wood
Two Tornadoes at the Gate
Sometimes Last Call Means Get Out And Sometimes It Means Finish Your Beer Let’s Pretend We Don’t Exist Ways We Survived It
77 78 79
Jennifer Gravley Statement of Teaching Philosophy
B.J. Hollars This Is A Test Of The Emergency Alert System
Barry Grass Smoke
Katie Jean Shinkle Time & Space in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Jessica Fordham Kidd Tuscaloosa Love Poem
Tuscaloosa Runs This Alan May
Tuscaloosa, The Penny, and The Train
Excerpts from Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon Winx
Oran for us
Erin Lyndal Martin
Inkling Banana Tree Fight Song
101 107 108 109
Steven Casimer Kowalski
The Second of 25 Things About Sam Martone
The Last One
Reflecting Mirror: Orlando, the Day After
For the 15th Street Taco Casa
Disasters and Those Who Endure
What I Will Say When They Ask
Soul Food Rebuilds This
Nik De Dominic
1430 Queen City Avenue
Until We Meet Again, Here’s A Roll Tide From Me 170
No Way Except Through.
from Tuscaloosa Notebooks Goodbye Tuscaloosa.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Around 5:13pm Central Standard Time on April 27th, 2011 an EF-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For those in Tuscaloosa, there are flashes of memory: the rain wall approaching from the south before the camera went out—the streets mentioned on the radio becoming recognizable, the lights flickering and going out. The next day, the weight of what had occurred settled on our chests: the residential areas of Forest Lake and Alberta City decimated, people missing, friends without roofs.
The phrase “Alabama Runs This” has been an inside joke between those here in Alabama about the caliber of work that comes out of here—if you have picked up a literary magazine or read one online in the past couple of months you have undoubtedly come across one or more of the names in this anthology. There is a pride, a camaraderie, a swagger to writers from Alabama; a grit beyond glamour, a work ethic. We write hard and we write well; I can say with confidence that this dedication to our work has translated to our efforts to rebuild. After the tornado, “Tuscaloosa Runs This” became a rallying cry amongst friends involved in the recovery process. In one sense, when everything happened we didn’t know what to do, but we knew that we needed to do something. And so, we played to our strengths—our counseling, our writing, our ability to haul, to swing an ax. As a result there was a lot of attempts: some more successful than others, but attempts nonetheless. The works in this anthology are attempts (essays, Montaigne would call them) to capture what it is we love about this city and what it means to us to repair and rebuild our home. The
quality of the people of Tuscaloosa is only matched by the quality of their writing. Here, we have some amazing work from amazing people—all with our city on our minds and in our hearts. Some of the work has been written long before late April, other pieces written shortly after the storm. Tuscaloosa is my adopted home: I am originally from New Jersey and came to Alabama, as many do, to attend the University of Alabama’s MFA program in Creative Writing. As most people from the northeast who decide to move to the Deep South, I was intimidated and scared: I was giving up a life I knew for something completely foreign and terrifying. As with anytime someone moves from one place to another, there are growing pains—the town is small and vastly different from any other place that I ever lived. It is hot. The moment I started to love Tuscaloosa was in the middle of the summer of 2007. I was teaching creative writing in a GED program in Greensboro, Alabama, a small town of about 2700 people about 40 miles south of Tuscaloosa through the Hale Arts Council and the Creative Writing Club at the University of Alabama. The students were construction workers in the Rural Studios Project out of Auburn University—they would take classes in the morning and build homes in the afternoon. When they heard that I was from Tuscaloosa, it is all they wanted to talk about: that Tuscaloosa is the center of it all—there is a movie theatre, there is football, there is an Olive Garden. They wanted to know where my Alabama Crimson Tide gear was: why wasn’t I wearing an Alabama shirt? It was then I understood the importance of where I
Tuscaloosa Runs This lived; that there is something here that is envied, that is loved. It represents “the big city” for a lot of people in West Alabama, a mythical place where Paul Bear Bryant once walked, an opportunity to be the first person in one’s family to go to college, a town full of hope, a home. I returned to Tuscaloosa grateful and I remain grateful—I have grown in its red clay: a better writer, a better teacher, and a better person.
In Tuscaloosa, there are cockroaches. The faux aristocracy of the fraternities and sororities can be suffocating. There is backwardness to the point of absurdity. But there is barbecue. There are quick walks to campus, quick walks to the bar. There are opportunities to start and sustain anything you wish, whether that is starting an Art Kitchen or a reading series or a locally grown produce nonprofit or a theatre group or or or. The reason for this is because of the people: the beautiful, talented, loving people. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been operating chainsaws. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been sorting through the remnants of homes to find photographs of people they’ve never met. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are sorting baby clothes, moving pallets of water, making phone calls to shelters, delivering steel-toed boots to people who have lost their homes so that they can return to work on Monday, sending good will and love and money from far away, these things, all of these things. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are also the authors of the pieces in this collection, sons and daughters of Tuscaloosa—some born here, some
adopted into its oak trees for a small period of time, forever changed. That shout “Roll Tide Roll” in the pregnant pause between “Alabama” and “Where” and “Alabama” and “Lord”, that are comforted by the sound of trains, that just know. So, thank you for all of your support of Tuscaloosa and those who love this city. Thank you for your support of Alabama writers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. --Brian Oliu Sunday, May 8, 2011 1105 16th Ave, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Tuscaloosa Runs This The Storm, In Fragments Andrew Grace
I’d like to tell you a story, but I’m afraid it’s going to be fragmented. I already think in fragments, and I act in fragments, and in these last few days, all my experiences have been fragments. The truth is, we probably all experience the world – at least, remember the world – through fragments. When life is running normally, when there are landmarks to hold you down onto your agreed upon course, it’s easy to see your day as a narrative of normalcy with fragments sprinkled throughout. But when everything is completely different, when the world doesn’t offer you a toehold or an expected chronology, you see just how essential the fragment is. In the end, it may be the only thing we have to hold on to. But fragmentation is also a problem. The disconnection of all the parts makes it hard to find patterns. Life feels surreal. You forget what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Sometimes you forget where you are. The attrition of one fragment against the next, against the next, against the next; its like the poured out pieces of a jigsaw puzzle before you start looking for the edges. Maybe there’s a whole picture there, but without the organization it’s just a pile of fragments. For me, all this fragmentation started in earnest a week ago when my city was hit by a half-mile wide tornado and everything stopped being like it was before.
THE PAST I’m from Alabama. I’m an eighth generation Alabamian on my mother’s side and I’ve lived here 27 of my 31 years. Writing those numbers for the first time surprises me. It seems like it can’t be right. As much as I feel Southern, I also feel distinctly not Southern. Like a refugee living far away from his native land, trying to make sense of the memories of that place he fled long ago. It’s a strange feeling – feeling like a foreigner in your own home. But I’ve grown accustomed to it. The result is that I’ve become the non-Southerner’s Southerner. I’m the Southerner who, like an anthropologist living among the natives too long, informs outsiders on their customs, their rites, their rituals, their speech. Many true Southerners can sense that I’m an anthropologist. That’s why a chatty Southern matriarch who reminded me of my grandmother told me yesterday as I delivered 20 gallons of perfectly prepared collards filled with pork neckbones and turkey necks, “We’ll make a Southerner out of you yet!” She didn’t know anything about me. She didn’t know I carry the scar of slave owning in my bones. That part of the reason I was there in the shelter trying to help feed those poor and mostly black folks who had lost everything in the storm was motivated from that deep sense of guilt that it was me, it was my
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people who create this mess of poverty and inequality in the first place. That my granddaddy’s favorite song was “Dixie.” That our family history is littered with anecdotes about mammies, and that every fall my blood courses with unbridled devotion to SEC football. But something about my air, something about my speech, something about how I look and how I sound made the collards an anomaly. I’ve spent most of my adult life wandering through the world bringing people anomalies. I’m like Quentin Compson in Absalom, Absalom. I’ve spent my days explaining what it’s like to live here and trying to figure out what, exactly, the South is about, and at the end of every story the listener only has one question: “Why do you hate the South?” And like Quentin, I can’t escape this question. On the one hand it seems so asinine: “I don’t hate it! I don’t!” But deep down I know the question is valid. Somewhere in my story there was a detail, a turn of phrase, a tone. Somewhere along the way I made you think I hate it. But maybe it doesn’t matter that I’m Southern. Maybe this is getting in the way of my story. THE FIRST ONE The first time I survived a tornado I was 10 years old. Here is a list of things I remember about it: 1. Watching my sister’s plastic playhouse fly one way across the yard while the trampoline flew the other.
2. The panic in my motherâ€™s voice as she shepherded my sister and I into the hallway closet. 3. I told you this was about memories, but I donâ€™t remember the sound of the tornado that day. That seems to bother me now. The absence, the lack, this frustration of not being able to find the memory of how it sounded as it climbed over our house and landed not two blocks away. But maybe the lack of memory can be a memory too. 4. Walking in darkness with my father in the middle of a normally busy street, now abandoned and strewn with limbs and trees, as we crested the hill above our neighborhood that evening after the storm, and seeing down into the valley the arbitrary placement of emergency vehicles, trees, debris, people, flashing lights, concrete blocks. We passed a condo that was opened up like a doll house. China still hung in its delicate mounting on the kitchen wall. We were on a mission to board up windows. I carried a large piece of plywood and the wind treated it like a sail, and for a brief moment I thought I might be carried up into the sky. 5. Waking the following day and seeing the total devastation of my elementary school a half mile away. I was midway through my 5th grade year and just a week before, in the stairwell that now lay in ruins, I shared a peck on the lips with both Caroline Barron and Sarah Blue. I found the
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social studies textbook of a popular boy lying in the field nearby, mostly ruined from the wind and the rain, and I kept it – hoping to have an opportunity to reunite it with its owner and, in so doing, help create a path of normalcy again. I would say to him, “Here is your book.” And he would say to me, “Thank you! I thought it was lost!” 6. Finding in that same field where I found the textbook a pencil embedded an inch deep into a tree and a brick from the school which I remember holding in my hands and thinking, “I’ll keep this forever.” I have no memory of what ever happened to the brick. 7. Hearing that among the 21 dead was the mother of a classmate. She was in her car, on her way to pick him up from an after-school program. The adults tried to hide the particular details of her death from us, but being 10 we speculated nonetheless. The car had been thrown a very great distance, it had landed upside down, etc. When my classmate returned to school a month or so later (at this point we were sharing an elementary school with kids whose world hadn’t been turned upside down) he was reserved and quiet and sullen and I was completely at a lack of just what to say. 8. Walking. It occurs to me now that the storm and the requisite destruction of infrastructure made us walk the mile or two around our house and see places I’d only previously seen
from a car window. Perhaps it was here, and not in a college seminar on American culture, where I first realized just how destructive the automobile has been in planning sustainable communities. I doubt that, though. You see, that’s the thing about memories. You end up projecting onto them as you live and learn and change. Memories aren’t even really a thing, maybe. Maybe there’s only the present. THE PRESENT One week ago today I survived my second tornado. Sitting down now to write about it, I can still hear the buzzing of chainsaws outside my window. Our house, my wife Rashmi, our cats – we’re all okay. There are a dozen significant divots in our roof, and the huge pecan tree in our backyard was uprooted, but we’re tremendously lucky. Two blocks behind us there are only foundations where there used to be homes. I can see clear across my neighborhood to a Home Depot over a mile away. Every tree, every home, every store – they’re gone or they’re broken or they’re beaten. Language completely fails me when I try and describe the devastation – just how different everything looks. I think language fails me because my imagination fails me. I could have never imagined this kind of world. It’s beyond my powers, beyond my vision. So I rely on cliches and well worn phrases: “like a warzone” “completely leveled” “annihilated” “obliterated.” Maybe this is why I’m a filmmaker – language often fails me. But the truth is, I can’t take pictures of all
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this right now either. I feel stuck. Usually I’m telling stories, I’m making images, I’m editing. But now I’ve got a crop of new occupations: lumberjack, roofer, trash hauler, and cook. Something I haven’t overanalyzed in my effort to understand what it means to be from the South is my affinity for cooking and feeding people. After the fourth day of cleanup, when my back and muscles were sore in ways I imagine most of the world feels every evening, I decided I should probably focus on what I’m good at. Truth is, I’m a pretty lousy lumberjack. However, I’ve got a shed full of catering gear and the proper friends to make beaucoups of food. I know farmers (which is a blessing in more ways than one) and they donate produce. We cook it, we serve it to those who need it, we make sense of the world. This has been how I’ve managed during these last few days. THE SECOND ONE I’d like to believe that due to its proximity I might be able to remember the second tornado even better than the first. But I don’t know if that’s true. The memories of the first tornado 21 years ago have been refined and polished through storytelling. They’ve acquired a certain intransigent quality that comes with repetition. These new stories are less than a week old, and I don’t know if how they sound now will be how they sound in ten years. I’m a firm believer that the story is more important than the reality – because the story is the only thing that has the power to live, constantly, in the present – so I’m skeptical I have the ability just
now to tell these stories. But I guess I could list a few memories: 1. Exchanging my final Facebook posts while watching the weather coverage a half hour before the storm. There’s a record of this, so I guess it’s not strictly a memory: Andrew Grace: James Spann (local weatherman) just said that you should put bicycle helmets on your kids. Shit’s crucial. Carly Palmour: I’ve got a salad bowl on my head. Do you have salad bowls? Andrew Grace: I put tinfoil on the cats’ heads. Hope that helps. Ann Powers: In the basement. No bike helmet here either. Katie Brooks Nolan: What about a lampshade? …. Andrew Grace: it looks like we got about 5-10 minutes before the nastiness hits. Everybody hold on! Then we get in the closet. 2. Continuing to watch the weather coverage on my laptop while huddled with Rashmi and our two cats inside the closet. The view is from a tall building downtown and shows a giant dark gray wedge coming from the sky and heading
Tuscaloosa Runs This
straight for the city. The weatherman says something like, “This is the storm of a career,” and I’ll never forget him saying that. Then he says something like, “My God, this is going to create severe devastation throughout Tuscaloosa. My God...” And then the wifi went out. 3. Closing my laptop and putting my arm around Rashmi, who weeps quietly. I considered getting our cat carriers from the shed before the storm and could now only regret not doing so. Should the storm rip off our roof, rip the walls around us, leave only the bare foundation, and should we still be alive after this, we were going to have two seriously scared and clawing cats to deal with among the devastation. 4. The light in the closet flickering and it unnerving me so much that I furiously shut it off. 5. They say the sound of a tornado is exactly like a freight train. I didn’t find that to be true. It’s an illusion, I think. It’s a trick of sensory, combining what you hear and what you feel and trying to make it fit with the world you’ve experienced before. The wind creates an overwhelming and dull noise while shaking the entire house – like a freight train rolling through your backyard. Sometimes this shaking moves it off the foundation, like the story of a woman and her children two miles northeast of us, whose house was picked up and moved a block and a half (they all survived). As the
storm was coming closer I began to think I was shaking out of fear. I put my hand firmly against the closet wall and could feel the entire wall shaking. That I can remember. But, like my great disappointment with the first tornado, I canâ€™t tell you exactly how it sounded. I think it might be because language and imagination fails me again. Rashmi says it was a dull and sucking sound. The dullness punctuated by debris hitting the walls, the roof, the windows. Like the random notes from a dryer when youâ€™ve left coins in your pants pocket. Distinctly smelling fresh cut pine in the middle of the storm. I realize later that half the trees from my neighborhood were swirling above our house. The silence afterward. Opening the closet door. Seeing the trees down, the fences down, the world rearranged. Walking into the street. Trees on houses, crushed. College kids with beers in their hands. Anxiously helping my next door neighbor patch a hole in his roof. Neighborly duty becoming an overwhelming instinct, but competing with a desire to See It, knowing that we suffered just the edges of the tornado, that blocks away there is rubble. Refusing to think about people trapped in the rubble while I patch a hole in a mostly coherent roof. Walking at dusk to the school down the street to survey the damage. An eerie parallel to
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my elementary school from the first tornado. Dodging debris, trees, roofs, bricks, crushed cars. Emergency vehicles can’t even get into our neighborhood. Walking around the school, the roof gone in parts. The second floor exposed with school desks lined up facing a blackboard. 10. The next few days a blur. Strangers, friends, youth groups – all cutting up trees and helping us haul them out. The neighborhood overwhelmed with dogooders. Their anonymous faces and hands, their tireless labor. It’s a feat of generosity I selfishly attribute to the South, but the truth is maybe it’s like this everywhere. Maybe people aren’t bad. Maybe we would all be good people all the time if a tornado was just there to wipe us out every minute of our lives. THE FUTURE The future is just as obscure as the past. But unlike the past, we don’t have stories about the future to help us make sense of it. Tentatively, some of us are starting to tell stories about the future of Tuscaloosa. My friend Gaines was living on Forest Drive and all the trees in his neighborhood fell – one squarely on his garage. Now his neighbors want to rename the street Deforest Drive. That’s a story about the future. But it’s too early for me to tell stories about the future. So I’ll tell you one last story about the very recent past.
I left town for the first time yesterday since the storm and was surprised to learn the rest of the world continues on much as it did before. I was aware of this fact, but that didn’t diminish its capacity to startle. Sitting in Birmingham, in a meeting scheduled weeks ago, I refreshed Twitter on my phone under the table while the conversation swirled around me. Bits and pieces of a procedural committee vote juxtaposed against the story of an elderly woman who lost everything. An up or down vote to confirm new board members against a request for ladies undergarmets at the emergency shelter. I can only be in Tuscaloosa right now – even when I’m not there. After the meeting I shared a beer with my friend Edwin at one of my favorite bars in Birmingham. A huge outdoor patio covered by giant ancient trees. First time I’d been to a bar since the storm. I spend a lot of time in bars, so this was notable. As we walked through the patio looking for a table, a friend of his came up and greeted us. Asked how we were doing. Edwin replied, “Can’t complain.” The friend then said, “I’m going to give you a bit of country wisdom. My granddaddy told me this one time and it’s always stuck with me. ‘Only complain to someone who can fix your problem.’”
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When I drove back into Tuscaloosa it was past dark. I was breaking the 8pm curfew in my neighborhood and I had to figure out how to navigate through the storm damaged areas. I crested the hill beside the Home Depot I can now see from my house, and looked down into the distance. My neighborhood, usually lit up with streetlights, stores and homes, was dark. I drove through the now famous intersection six blocks from my house – that intersection where everything was leveled, where the President just a few days earlier had remarked “I’ve never seen devastation like this,” where photographers from around the country have taken countless pictures from different angles trying to capture that one image that sufficiently says what my words fail to say. The only illumination were flashing police lights at every cross street, checking identification. I showed my ID, bid the policeman goodnight, pulled into my carport and cried. I cried for my neighborhood. I cried because the trees were gone. I cried for those who lost their lives here. I cried for my classmate’s mom who died in her car in 1989. I cried because the way things used to be, the way things used to look and sound, is gone forever. I cried because my house and my wife and I were spared. I cried because I’m broken like my city. This is the part in my story where I wish I had some forward looking vision – a final declaration that we will persevere (we will), that the new Tuscaloosa will be better than the old (it will be), that we will rebuild, that we will help each other, that we will overcome
(all true). But I canâ€™t summon that paragraph right now. I was taught that the hero should vanquish the villain at the end of a story. At the very least, after a spirited battle, the hero should learn life lessons that inform and spur us to action. No one wants to read a story that ends with the hero crying in his carport or fretting about the future. But nevertheless, here we are. Stumbling along in the dark, trying to find our way toward a future that looks a lot different than the past.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Forest Lake Jason McCall It sounds a little enchanted, like you could turn at a stop sign and find a goblin arguing with a gnome over who would win: the ’92 or ’09 tile teams. Years ago, I saw the supernatural here: kisses transformed me, magic words kept demons in their vault. My Disney moment, though, happened in a duplex after a night with pixie shots and gin ended with me fumbling 28
over my girlfriend’s shoes. Somewhere, there is a clever statement about a Cinderella subversion, some line about pumpkins and magic being lost is hanging on one of the splintered trees that mark my own neighborhood better than street signs the delivery guys always missed. I found a shoe on my way to back to rebuild there, but I didn’t think about fairytales. I just wanted to put my head down and clean.
Red Cross Blood Drive at the Northport DCH Medical Center I could call myself a Jew running a suicide prevention center in Masada, or I could question why a son of Jim Crow survivors would care about rebuilding the South. Those would be welcome distractions; they would help me ignore the hospital behind me, the hospital I put behind me after my mind uprooted like so many trees in Monnish Park. Here, I swore off doctors. Here, I swore I would never take a needle again. I swore I would never visit this place again. I would never speak its name. I would never admit to know what it meant to cross over behind those doors. But here I am, rain soaked and shivering. I don’t tell Lauren about my broken promises as we read through the donor information folder. This is her first time. She wants to know what to expect. I tell her it gets easier after the first sting and I don’t even think about the blood anymore. Remember to breathe, I tell her, but I’m not talking to her.
Tuscaloosa Runs This What is Lost in a Simile We force ourselves to look at it like a war zone, like a CGI movie scene. We compare it to the manmade because we want to believe men and women can bend brick and throw memories across county lines. We want to pretend that nature takes a cue from us, that nature notices what we do here. It does not
make us any different from our parents, the Greeks who casted gods as men with perfect abs and women with breasts begging for a mouth. As we peck at our keyboards and pray for updates, we try to see godsâ€™ hands as a bit like ours, and we shiver because even those hands can slip.
Tuscaloosa Triolet Matt Maki Everything in Tuscaloosa has been built at least twice. So often, it has been carried into the sky and deposited in Birmingham or Oz or other paradise. Everything in Tuscaloosa has been built at least twice. Those bold Alabamians no longer ask why everything in Tuscaloosa has been built at least twice, so often has it been carried into the sky.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Food World Here at Food World, we boost our cred by calling that funky intersection boasting nothing but two grocery stores and a McDonald’s “Five Points,” like Five Points Birmingham or Five Points Atlanta, as though we are the cultural Mecca of Tuscaloosa rather than the coalescence of Cottondale’s trailer parks. Here at Food World, the bastard child of the Bruno’s grocery corporation, we don’t get the big spenders from the Mercedes Benz plant or the pretentious university-salary foodies. We scrap with the cattycorner Winn-Dixie for the neighbors’ food stamps and WIC coupons. 32
Here at Food World, we’re so desperate for a profit that we are encouraged to directly confront shoplifters, pseudoephedrine in their pockets and steaks down their pants. We’re rewarded for chasing down the snatch ‘n’ grabbers running with an entire money till out the front door, shedding coins until we tackle and sit on them until the police arrive. It’s okay if we don’t confront a pointed gun. Here at Food World, we’re so desperate for a profit that we open every day under all circumstances. Our best sales were in the Katrina panic when every other business closed and left us the only source of eggs and milk and bread and every stupid thing you’d never want to stock up on if you were trapped in a house without electricity. When we lose electricity, all our dairy goes on clearance and we serve as flashlightequipped personal shoppers for customers waiting on
the sunny sidewalk. As tornados come through town, baggers accompany each shopping buggy outside and return it immediately so it wonâ€™t tumble through our front window again. We warily eye the used car lot next door, the times those cars rained upon us still fresh in our memory.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Location: 33° 12’ 24” N, 87° 32’ 5” W Lauren Smith Start: close your eyes.
Wander with lazy footsteps back to the nights when you were still small, back to when your eyes were so much larger than your words. Remember how cool the earth felt under the porch, how you would crawl there and become a secret under the feet of your elders. Their stories would fall through the spaces between the floorboards and cover you, a lullaby blanket. Stay there until June, until the night is thick with honeysuckle and the crooning of toads. They perform along the creek that runs behind the house and you ache to run barefoot among their Sam Cooke melodies, to feel the warmth of the water against your ankles. “Better not, Doll”, your grandmother says as she fills your stomach with pie and your head with precaution. Summer breeds water moccasins and copperheads. So you stay on the porch with the older bones, sleepy headed and content. In the darkness you watch the fireflies flicker on and off like tiny lighthouses. You want one for your room, a friend to keep your nightstand company from the belly of a mason jar. As your grandfather carries you inside he tells you that nothing beautiful can be caught. The best you can do is to remember. Turn off by the white church. Leave your car in the parking lot and walk quietly. The light from the flashlight bounces gracelessly above their whispers. “I heard they did lobotomies there. Just stuck a screwdriver or whatnot up some poor bastard’s nose and poked around until he was sane”, says Jake.
“Well I heard they chained them to the wall. Freaky shit. Angelina and Billy Bob level freaky”, adds Chris. You, in your low ponytail and tennis sweatshirt, are skeptical. What you do know is that they buried the poorest patients standing up; their bodies rolled in a burlap cocoon and then planted by the Black Warrior. Mythology aside, the asylum is sobering. It stands alone and abandoned in the darkness. Someone has written Welcome to Hell across the front steps. The whitewash of the paint is chipping away and your footsteps sound too loud as you enter. Everyone is chilled by the dirty mattresses that line the floor, the smell of filth and rats. Ghosts you were prepared for but not this. On the third floor you stand looking out the window. All is quiet and you can hear the rustling of the cornfields under you. You are the first to see the cars snaking up the dirt road and then the swivel of lights, red and blue. Run. Turn onto the street where supposedly it all went down. Older now, you believe in folklore more. He talks in rapid sentences and the word enjambment dances through your mind. Your own voice sounds thin, nervous. You both listen to the moaning of the train as it cuts through your words and fades into the river. He stops suddenly and grabs your hand, points towards an ordinary looking house. “There’, he says ‘that’s where Barry Hannah shot the arrow”. You stare at the house, at the front door and try to hear the heartbeat of the arrow puncturing the wood. “Why do you think he did it?” you ask. He shrugs and grins at you. “Just trying to get a girl to notice him”. Look down at your boots. Smile. Tell him you noticed.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Turn around.
Detour back to your grandmother’s house after the funeral. Everyone looks thinner. Exhausted. The kitchen counters have been invaded by casseroles and the pastel colored saran wrap that tarps them give the dishes a jellyfish appearance. Your body feels hollow with hurt. Outside the toads sing for you once again but it sounds distant, as if the music is being salvaged from the warped grooves of a record. It’s the crickets that reach you now, the way they violin their legs into something constant. Pain isn’t just something that recedes. Your mother hugs you and then your father walks into it. Your brother. Your grandmother. Uncles and aunts and cousins, until one by one the ones he loved most are holding each other up. The architecture of survivors. Stop. Separate into strands of hair, eyelashes, pennies. Try to imagine the men that must have come in the night, their hands digging into the soil and leaving behind the oaks. How there was a river and then someone constructed a boat. How the library that tucked you away on rainy afternoons and introduced you to Steinbeck wasn’t always there. How everything that has vanished will be remembered, will be carried by thought and other hands. Open your eyes. Know your city breathes.
the bama bolero Juan Carlos Reyes idleness a function of power time a sum of everywhere you can help ours is the fourth rubble on the left at the magnolia lying across the road bring your gloves hedgerow cutters and gas-drunk chainsaws and loose arms we’ll wait, toppled roof broken tables collapsed cupboards and tossed kitchen sink if you’re hungry, we have cookies we’re not the only dog and pony show, though you’ll see, the new prairies beaming now like an after hours prom, confetti everywhere and who knew we’d have so many brooms to sweep bodies trees and mud the evening spinning dancing downstreet leaping wind left its head cocked gasping searching, the right step left step misstep, the dedicated pacing it takes to choreograph the bama bolero and it’s no one’s fault, really, even the clouds run blind raging tearing crying with no regard to the traffic and standing walls of people lakes schools and malls, and so ours is the fourth rubble on the left, past the blue flatbed pickup and broken plywood, walking on the shattered bathtub, pacing circles around the overturned gutted sedan, see there that’s me, i’m the one waving
Tuscaloosa Runs This Two Years in Tuscaloosa Megan Paonessa
I came to, so to speak, in the rain and ran for the house. My dog hated the wet just as much as I did, and she galloped in front of me, pulling me along by the leash. August in Alabama. Hot and sticky were the words to describe it, but no one could imagine how hot and humid it was without having lived there. The tropical storms had made it all the way up from Tampa to Tuscaloosa, petering out just before Birmingham, and now the downpours came in quick bursts, and the red, hard-as-cement clay we ran over refused to soak up water. For the first time in my life I had bought, used, and learned to love a pair of ugly, rubber, teal and gold goulashes. They combated the rivers of rainwater that washed down the streets, heading for the massive drainage ditches at each intersection. I swear a person could get swept along the sidewalk and flushed down one of those drains––sent straight down a waterslide to China they were such gaping holes in the streets. I had thought about trying the ride a time or two. That’s how lonely I was. So now I had a dog. Peppermint, my black and white English Pointer, shook off on the doorstep––good girl––and we toweled off in the open doorway. There wasn’t much need to lock the doors around here; it was just as easy to break in through a window than to use a key. I lived on The Court, which is what my writerly neighbors and I nick-named our cul-de-sac of decaying, redbrick, ranch duplexes. The head of the spoon, on the left, was how we gave directions. We found fame the spring Revolutionary Road came out in theaters––
It was a nearly-cool Friday morning, and my neighbors––Ashley (Shlee) and Danilo (Nilo)––and I were drinking coffee on our respective doorsteps, shouting hellos across the street, when a blue minivan pulled slowly around the spoon and paused on its way out, cutting the space between myself and my friends. There was a crazed, curly-haired, Jesus-preaching, middle-aged woman in the driver’s seat, and she leaned over the slightly older, stick-thin, silent man on the passenger side to get a good look at my neighbors sitting on their stoop. The man, I noticed, held a book, with both hands, straight out of the car widow, straight out at Nilo and Ashley. It was a thick, darkcovered book, and I prepared myself for a sermon. “Do you know how lucky you are?” the woman yelled from the minivan. It came across as an accusation. Ashley put down her poetry and looked up from beneath her sunhat. Her husband, usually a cordial man, stood up and stepped into his lawn. “Excuse me?” Counter to the way Danilo sounds––Serbian, Russian, I would say Italian in the least––Nilo was a stocky, brown-bearded Irishman from a coalmining town in Montana. Danilo. It’s actually a Hebrew name. It means God is my judge. If that truly had been a Bible thrusting out of the blue, beat-up minivan, there may have been some irony found. “Do you know who lived here?” the frizzy woman asked. She paused to stare into the backs of Nilo’s corneas. “Richard Yates lived here.” Nilo’s jaw slackened; Ashley smirked. The silent, awe-struck man in the passenger seat held his book still further out the window, leaning it
Tuscaloosa Runs This
first right then left for all to see. I appreciated the large, greenish-black hardcover, and the man too, focusing so much energy, so much reverence, on the book he held out the window. The fact that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet weren’t plastered romantically across the front cover encouraged me to believe that the book had actually been read prior to watching the movie. “You are blessed,” the minivan woman preached. “You should know how blessed you are to be living here.” She turned to eye me suspiciously. “So blessed!” I nodded, never good at standing up to scolding mothers. “So blessed!” she yelled again at my neighbors. Then she straightened out her blouse and began inching the minivan forward. The out-held book leaned further and further back along the van’s metal siding, continuing to shine its blessed light on Ashley and Nilo as the van moved slowly on. The silent man supported the book all the way down the street, pulling it in only as they turned the corner, and the minivan screeched away, speeding down Alaca Place. Holy shit. I crossed the street laughing out loud. Ashley looked stricken. “Did that just happen?” “That was awesome,” I said. “We’re blessed,” Nilo scoffed. He eyed his wife, “We’re blessed because an alcoholic, broke-as-a-joke, eighty-year old man came here to die.” “Are you kidding me?” Ashley’s stupor melted. “Blessed? Here? Sure, cause living in this pile of junk is something to be proud of.” “They probably would have loved a tour,” I said. “I’m surprised you didn’t offer.” “They’d go looking through our freezer for
hidden manuscripts,” Ashley said. According to legend, some graduate student who had been helping to clean out Richard Yates’ apartment after his death, had discovered a full manuscript, covered in ice, hiding in his freezer. For all we knew, there could still be treasures living in the attic, only we didn’t want to disturb the black mold and the scurrying rodents, who currently resided just the other side of the small trap door in the ceiling, in order to check. The mold ameba slowly growing in the corner of Ashley and Nilo’s living room ceiling was reminder enough of what opening that door could unleash. Though, late-night libations had often double-dog dared us to climb up for a look. Yates had been a pack rat in his old age. Our landlord, Roberta Compton, confirmed this. Roberta told us Yates had been notoriously suspicious of his neighbors in The Court. He hoarded everything. Didn’t even take out the trash. She told us this with a frown on her southern-speaking mouth, and didn’t even follow up with the customary God bless him. Yates was also an alcoholic, so maybe he just got drunk enough to confuse the freezer with the bookshelves. Maybe the bookshelves were full. Who knows. “Hell, it’s probably the same freezer,” Nilo said, “knowing how kept up this place is.” “I think you should check the attic,” I said for the millionth time. “We’d fall through the ceiling,” Ashley said. Nilo opened the door to go inside. “I’ll see you at the reading tonight?” “Yeah. I’m driving if you need a ride,” I said. I was still amused by the minivan. Grinning, I turned to
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Ashley, “That was awesome.” She snorted from her lawn chair and pulled down the brim of her large, brown sunhat. She went back to reading a book of poems by Joanna Klink, an old professor of hers from Missoula. I crossed the street and went back to my writing desk. Richard Yates: The Court’s claim to fame. Not a bad one if you ask me. After finishing up a semester teaching at the University of Alabama, Yates found himself at the end of his career without another job to house him. Which is why the University put him up in The Court. He wrote there til the last, drank there til the last, and pulled along his oxygen tank as MFA students picked him up for readings and took him to University events. As the story goes, Yates would light up a cigarette just as soon as his butt hit the seat of his escort’s car, and the lucky student who was driving would pray himself silly, hoping to God the whole car didn’t explode as the oxygen tank rattled between them down the road. Yates’ was a story that would have made Barry Hannah proud. Barry Hannah, another Alabama legend. But that’s a longer sort of story. As I look back on my time spent living on The Court, I remember the days we laughed over writers and writing more than I remember the loneliness. I do remember my writing desk, pushed against one long wall in a room that was too large for my possessions. And I remember looking out the window beside it quite often, some times when the rain was pouring down, and it felt right, like the weather was linked to life, and the grey and the wet in the air was a sign of someone’s understanding. There were other times though too, especially toward the end of my two years
in Tuscaloosa, when the sun shown bright on the green grass, and yellow flowers poked up through the earth, and the pink and orange roses that grew along one side of my house kept on blooming, even after I snipped most of them off and left them on my neighbor’s doorsteps. When I look back now, I miss it. Miss it all. I miss the friends I made there, some of whom I left there. I miss the constant influx of inspiration; so many phrases and ideas that words seemed to float through the air in Alabama, words on strings, ready for the plucking. There was a music down there too. Something always in the background, something with a little twang, and a lot of folk, and something that inspired bonfires in Ashley’s backyard, and cookouts next door, and vegetable patches with six-feet tall sunflowers growing between my rose bushes. Life was simple in Tuscaloosa, focused. It makes me question the loneliness I felt there. Question it as only hindsight can allow. Perhaps I was simply still learning how to be a writer, still learning how to accept failure and rejection in the silence of a solitary calling. It takes a lot of practice, being a writer, and I’m still working on it. It’s raining today. The thick, lightning-andthunder kind of rain that keeps me and my dog indoors. But we’re in Chicago now, and the wet will seep deep into the black mud here. My goulashes are packed deep in the hall closet, back behind suitcases, and they’ve been replaced with snow shoes. I think I just might get those ugly rubber boots out today. Try them on. I might take Peppermint for a walk in the rain, and as I walk, I might just think of Tuscaloosa, and how it was when I lived down there. How it was when it stormed. How it was when the heat sang out
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so hot we found ropes in trees to swing out over the Black Warrior River. How it was when cicadas sang from treetops, and grasshoppers grew large enough to fly. How it was before the April tornados ripped through the city. Before the tornados tore out the trees, and the buildings, and the homes, and changed the lives of the people still living down there. The tornados changed the town for which I still have these unsorted feelings. The storms that came through Tuscaloosa this spring, have made me feel regret. Regret for not being down there when the city was hit, so I could help. So I could know what it was like for the community. So that I could be a part of that community still, as I help. So I could know what the storms will come to mean for Tuscaloosans. My time in Tuscaloosa now resides in a past I cannot return to, but the city will rebuild itself. The people in Tuscaloosa have the drive in them to rebuild––they are good and supportive people. They’ll make the city better than it was before. Though it will be a city I may no longer recognize.
It Did Water the Land Jeremy Hawkins I wrote my share of love letters in Tuscaloosa. Most were unsent, or shredded and reconstituted into new forms before being redirected elsewhere. One took the shape of a penny that I threw into the Black Warrior River as I asked the river for help with a problem I was having. Another started as a poem but turned into a crimson t-shirt that I gave to my uncle in Staten Island. He wears the shirt when he runs in road races and people shout happy things at him. A few letters were actually sent to Japan, and the addressee never knew how to respond. I still have several dozen letters left in notebooks, hidden on hard drives. 45
A letter I never wrote was to a stand of mimosa trees that grew by a small pedestrian bridge down by the river. I have always loved mimosa trees, but I had never before these ones noticed how the slim leaves fold in the night like paper fans. They too rest, it seems. I ran by the trees in the early mornings as I was trying to make myself less, and smelled the blossoms, saw the tight folds of their leaves, and I breathed. I made myself less. I wanted to improvise a love letter to a family I used to pass in the paths down by the river. They would walk for hoursâ€”a mother, two young girls, a boy, and a baby in a stroller they would all take turns pushing. I assumed they were a family. I assumed they were there, like me, for fitness, each being slightly heavy. But it could be that the baby was fussy, and would only hush for the
Tuscaloosa Runs This sound of the river, under the smell of mimosa blossoms. It could be that they simply loved being there, together. Maybe they were friends. They began to smile at me after we’d passed each other for a few weeks. I thought to stop and talk.
Often the letters wrote themselves. Once I raced a coal barge. I ran along the path that itself ran along the bluff alongside the river, the barge was being pushed by a red tug. We vied for a mile before the paths gave up and I won, though the barge never noticed. It floated on toward the locks that wait further downstream. I stopped and listened to the insects that are always in congress there in the river park. They also did not seem to notice my triumph. They were the punctuation on what had happened, and sealed it without my hand. To be able to follow the letters on their journeys, that would be my wish. To fly from Tuscaloosa to Japan, to be opened and set down again. To bound through a halfmarathon in New York and grow heavy with sweat. No, to be the penny, lodged somewhere in the riverbed for a while, being made slowly less by the current’s insistence—I would choose that. But this would be to assume the penny has not changed form once more. And I ought not to assume that the river never replied. It did water the land that held the mimosas. It carried the barge I raced. It hushed the baby in its stroller— this I am sure, even if I never stopped. The problem for which I asked the river’s help has long since passed. Yes, the river makes its replies. It is never less.
Falling in Love, With Chorizo Caleb Johnson My favorite Mexican place used to be located on University, just across McFarland Blvd., in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa. The place was called Tacqueria Jaripeo, and you could get the best chorizo torta in the whole world there. A torta is a sandwich. This one was served on bread that was so crispy on the outside and so soft on the inside that it didnâ€™t seem possible. The slices of bread could barely hold the avocado, white onion, carrot slices, jalapeno peppers, sour cream and handfuls of chorizo, cooked until it looked like rust, that were generously heaped on it. The sandwich was as big as my head, and my head is big, and its innards splattered all over the plate every time you took a bite. That was okay, because then you got to use your hands and somehow the food tasted even better that way. You could wash it down with a Mexican Coca-Cola in a slender glass bottle that a beautiful young waitress would bring to you from a cooler in the corner of the rectangular dining room. The restaurant was situated at the end of a row of businesses in a low cinderblock building. Just down the street, there was a drive-thru cigarette store and the best Chinese restaurant in Tuscaloosa. The portion of the building that housed Tacqueria Jaripeo was painted the color of a margarita and had large windows that looked out across the street at a Baptist church with a giant globe on its sign. I always smiled as I drove past that sign and turned into the tacqueriaâ€™s gravel parking lot.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Tacqueria Jaripeo is gone now. The church across the street is gone, and there’s no telling where its globe ended up after a tornado tore through town on April 27th, 2011. There have been reports of debris from Tuscaloosa landing as far away as Knoxville, 1Tenn. All of Alberta City is pretty much gone. Homes, businesses, churches, schools – all of it. Gone. Like an enormous hand slapped the earth and brushed most everything away. What’s left is unrecognizable and uninhabitable and unbelievable. It is sickening to see.
I feel guilty for missing Tacqueria Jaripeo, since there is so much else that has been lost. But I miss it anyway. It isn’t the only thing I miss, and I feel guilty about a lot of other things, too, in the wake of the tornado that destroyed much of the city I love. But under the weight of all this guilt, it’s important to remember things – no matter how trivial it might seem. Remembering heals, and remembering preserves. I’ll always remember the people who operated Tacqueria Jaripeo. The mother and grandmother in the kitchen. The teenage girl behind the cash register. The father managing the dining room, eating an off-menu soup at a table of silent men. The small boys running in and out of the front door, into the kitchen that smelled like I hope heaven smells if I ever get there. I didn’t know them personally, which also makes me feel guilty. But I loved the things they made. That’s a personal connection of some kind, I think. After the rubble is cleared, I don’t know what will be built where my favorite Mexican place used to be. There’s no telling. No telling if the family is still alive
to rebuild even. I hope they are, hope they are safe and can sell chorizo tortas again one day. But even if a condo or a chain restaurant is built on that plot of land, Iâ€™ll always think of it as my favorite Mexican place. The place where I fell in love with a girl over a chorizo torta, which was a way that you could only fall in love in my Tuscaloosa. She was a friend of some friends. On the first night we met, we stripped to our underwear and swam across the Black Warrior River together after the bars closed. Everybody else watched from the shore. It was foolish and fun, but Tuscaloosa makes you believe you can do things like that and it will all be okay. Usually, it is all okay. We all went back to her apartment that night, just up the hill from the boat launch where we swam, and slept on the floor. I think the next day was the 4th of July. Before we went to sleep, I told the girl how sweet she was and probably tried to kiss her, maybe tried more. But she had a boyfriend, so we settled on just being friends. Not long after that, the girl graduated and got a job in another town. I stayed and felt like Iâ€™d missed out on something when she left, which is a common feeling in a college town since so many people come and go. Not much seems permanent, but you try to hold onto it like it is. We stayed friends though, and in May, she visited for the weekend. I donâ€™t remember why she visited that particular weekend, but I remember thinking that something
Tuscaloosa Runs This would happen just because we’d both be reunited within the Tuscaloosa city limits. I didn’t know what that something would be, but Tuscaloosa really is special enough to cause a grown man to think like that. To think that something magic can happen based on two people existing within a particular place. Within this particular place, a place in West Alabama along a slow-moving river.
We danced at Egan’s that Friday night because that’s where all our friends go, and being at Egan’s makes you feel like you can dance like James Brown. Just part of that Tuscaloosa magic, again. She was beautiful, wore a thin dress with tiny pink flowers on it. We got drunk, because that’s what you do at Egan’s and being drunk goes well with thinking you’re dancing like James Brown. The multicolored Christmas lights strung across the ceiling became blurry sometime around 2 a.m., which means it’s time to go home even if the bar is still open. We went back to our friends’ apartment across the river and slept together in their upstairs guest bedroom. We woke up the next morning, hungover as all get out. Our friends had to go to a wedding, which meant we had what was left of a Saturday to spend together. We needed food, now. I don’t know why I thought about Tacqueria Jaripeo since I’d never been there before. I’d only passed it on my way to the Oasis, which is a bar in Cottondale that serves the best cheeseburger in the county, and buckets of iced-down PBR, for a good price. But I’m glad I thought about it when I did, and I’m glad we went there together for the first time – me and the girl.
We put on our swimsuits before we left, because this Saturday was a warm one and a pool is a good place to fight a hangover in Tuscaloosa because there’s usually booze there. Everybody in Tuscaloosa knows the power of the hair of the dog, which is only a myth in other places. Because those other places aren’t Tuscaloosa and aren’t magic. I drove us to Alberta. Down McFarland, across the river, left on University, past the church with the globe sign that’s not there now and into the gravel lot. We ordered and talked about the weird pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls while we waited on our food. I don’t remember exactly what the girl ordered that day. I think it was some kind of burrito that was big as a brick. What I do remember is how I held my chorizo torta across the table, and how she took a bite of it. How the sandwich parts fell onto the table. How she smiled and wiped her hand at the corner of her mouth. How easy life felt. How the girl bought us two Mexican Cokes before we left. How we drank them during the ride to the pool at an apartment complex where neither one of us lived, knowing the secret that it wouldn’t be crowded even on the weekend. Knowing secrets and keeping them. We bought beer from at a Buddy’s on the way, and we drank it in the pool. The pool felt like bathwater even after the sky opened up and dumped an early summer rain on our heads. We didn’t care. There was no lightning, just rain. Life was easy, and we were full on chorizo and beer.
Tuscaloosa Runs This We drank more and floated and kissed and talked until we decided to go back to the upstairs guest bedroom in our friends’ apartment that was across the river. We didn’t even try to dry off before we got in the car because it was still raining outside, and we didn’t dry off before going inside the apartment either. Just threw our wet clothes into a pile on the carpet, and it was still raining outside like we were in a goddamn movie, and we were wet from the pool and the rain and probably drunk again, too.
The weekend after the tornado hit, the girl came back to Tuscaloosa. This was almost a year after that weekend we first went to Tacqueria Jaripeo. She hadn’t been back since, but I had. We’d fallen in and out of friendship over that time. Mostly my fault. Never came close to what happened over a chorizo torta in Alberta City and a pool over on Hargrove and an apartment across the slow-moving river that we swam the night we met. What could only happen in Tuscaloosa. But we were friends again when the tornado hit and she visited, and I was glad to see her in town despite the grim circumstances. Late at night, drunk again, on separate couches at another apartment across the river, the girl and I talked about that weekend in May. She said how glad she was that it had happened like it did, had been bottled up in Tuscaloosa. It’s a memory she can keep, can hold close as she prepares to get married to the guy who was her boyfriend and is now her fiancé. She’ll keep it bottled up and open it when she needs some, taking it with her wherever she goes. Preserving it as she continues to live outside Tuscaloosa, and I go west for graduate school.
I told her I was glad, too, even though sometimes I wonder what could have been. Even Tuscaloosa canâ€™t keep you from wondering what could have been, in the wake of a fleeting love or a devastating storm.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Water Always Leaves The Knife Darren Demaree For Tuscaloosa How the chip & hammer, so paused in both, that we live with the carry & away of that sun sum
of what fingers do when it’s char or the painted red faces of about, of about the town. Rats, lost scorpions, the full ribs of such beauty is blood, is fat, is ship.
Tuscaloosa Kori Hensell i hopped the ghost train into this town plowing like a holy fever through hackberry and elm— legato, agitato a dissonant chord of unfinished business. i coursed the intuitive geography of the black warrior running parallel to the tracks tuskalooska will always have, will always be unfinished business. sold my plasma then gambled all my wealth away; “greenetrack pays you money.” i took the leftover to egan’s, earnest hands patiently waiting for the exchange: consume, prance, shrivel, disgorge in the street. who is holding my hair? no one, my hair is short. who is holding my hand? no one. my temper was short. i am hugging myself in a puddle of gin and quinine and Ginuwine. passed out in church again. here, we wear our nice clothes to the grocery store. “have a nice day,” they always say. baby. darling. baby-darling. sweetheart. pumpkin. sugar. bless our pitiful little hearts. phantom mothers, the affection of apparitions. i stay up late, the routine of cheap thrills refusing to drift away until I’ve watched dunn’s auto infomercials— grown men in chicken suits wielding baseball bats, bashing in windshields, selling me their precious, coveted eggs.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Opera House Kate Lorenz Either Fitzcarraldo does not know that the woman inside the house she owns is on the verge of madness, or she does not care. Lydia wonders, what is the responsibility of a landlord to her tenant’s physical and mental wellbeing? Probably none, she decides. Lydia spreads the dust-grey blinds open with her index finger and thumb and peers outside. Fitzcarraldo is sitting on the stone bench she recently installed, smoking a cigarette, and watching her henchman hack at the ground with a shovel.
The landlord’s real name is Cheryl. Lydia calls her Fitzcarraldo. It was Andrew’s idea, the nickname, after a Werner Herzog film. It originated when the woman started showing up at their apartment every day to beat the lush Alabama backyard into something orderly and respectable: a place with faux marble sculptures and plastic fountains, with the wild, hungry bamboo banished at the root; a place where a young tenant and her lover could sit and wait for the coolness of evening, the trees forming an opera house’s canopy, the oversized insects its performers. Although Lydia had never seen the movie, she was content to invoke it on a nearly daily basis while pretending a deep understanding about the title character that would sometimes cause Andrew to put a hand on her shoulder and squeeze. Lydia counts that Andrew has been gone for twenty-two days. It is a nice, symmetrical number, and also her age. Friends had warned Lydia not to move with Andrew—that he would probably drop out of school or find a real southern belle. So what,
Lydia thought and still thinks. Fitzcarraldo, she whispers through the blinds. The landlord turns to the window, looking but not looking, like a cat waiting for a creature’s small movement before pouncing. Lydia sits on the couch and puts a hand to her chest, feeling, scientifically. Cataloguing. Today there is a tenderness in the center, over her sternum. Lydia loves the names of bones, and finds these names useful in fortifying herself against the universe’s fatal afflictions. Sternum: a shield. She runs her fingers across her collarbone. Clavicle: a delicate, reedy whistle. In the wrist, the carpals, two clusters of stars, then the phalanges, ten small soldiers. Lydia moves her hand to her breast. The skin is smooth, unwanted, she notes. There is a rasp from the backyard. As Fitzcarraldo admits, sometimes she can’t catch a breath. She said it to Lydia once, three months after her henchman had stripped the kitchen cabinets of their butter colored paint. It was supposed to be a quick job, a couple of days, but the painter’s wife had gotten sick. And so, Fitzcarraldo offered to pay Lydia to finish the job. “I’d do it myself, Sweet Pea,” she had said, “but I just can’t catch a breath.” Then Fizcarraldo had bent at the waist and buttressed herself against her knees. Lydia’s heart swelled to bursting. She had always been able to muster great amounts of compassion for those who brought misfortune upon themselves. Lydia had wanted to take the woman in her arms and rewind a lifetime of substance abuse and familial outrages that had without a doubt colored Fitzcarraldo’s days. Still, she did not want
Tuscaloosa Runs This to paint any cabinets. “I’ll ask Andrew when he comes home,” Lydia had said, closing the door and locking it slowly so Fitzcarraldo would not hear the bolt turning. *
“Get a job,” is what Lydia’s mother advised. “You’re stuck in Alabama, and you’ll have to pay rent at some point.” Really, the problem was that the kind of job that was available. For a while she had worked at a grocery store perched at the fork of two streets, giving it a strange, triangular shape that Lydia despised. The store, called Winship’s, printed a Bible verse near the bottom of each receipt. They also sold spoiled milk, which was probably why they had gone out of business.
“What kind of job do you want?”
Lydia knows. She had an aunt who worked at a flower distribution warehouse in Michigan, taking pictures of the overstocked flowers and designing tags that specify where the plants should be placed, how much direct light they need, and what temperatures will keep the leaves perky and the blossoms full. This sounded good to her. She had never been able to grow a plant, but thought she would be soothed in the presence of so many successful blooms. Instead of looking for this job, she stayed in the apartment and ate mostly canned ravioli and waited for the moment when Fitzcarraldo would have something new to discuss. *
Lydia remembers a spring vacation. A romantic weekend, Andrew had said, was what they needed. He had been so busy with school, of course, and she had done such a nice job hanging pictures in the house, and organizing the dishware. Lydia wanted to go to the beach, and wear the large straw sunhat that her mother hadn’t wanted and read a book while propping herself on her elbow at a flattering angle. There was a nice, long car ride on an overcast day. They had listened to the music that Lydia chose, and Andrew spent part of the drive with his hand on Lydia’s knee. It was a pale and well-formed hand, and could have been her own. She had dragged one finger along his knuckles, counting the bumps and ridges. Then Andrew had missed an exit, and he swore and returned his hand to rest on the automatic gear shift. She did read a book on the beach. He swam and ran along the shore, and purchased her a t-shirt with her name spray painted next to a hermit crab. But then he got drunk on whiskey at dinner, and took, in Lydia’s opinion, an excessively long bath, and sliced his hand on the ceiling fan while putting on an undershirt. They wrapped the wound in a towel, which they left on the bed the next day, in a moment of collective malice, for the housekeeper to dispose of. When they finally got home, their apartment was in disarray. All their furniture had been pushed into the middle of the rooms. The kitchen tile was missing, and the unfinished trough of the counter extended two feet further than it previously had. On the bedroom floor was a pot rack, and a plastic zen fountain still in its cardboard box. Next to the couch in the living room
Tuscaloosa Runs This stood a dishwasher, and a beech-hued kitchen cabinet that almost touched the ceiling Everything had been painted cream: the walls, the ceilings, the cabinet. The windows were painted shut. Small dots of paint bread-crumbed their way across the hardwood floors. Lydia checked her messages. There was one from Fitzcarraldo. “Sweet Pea,” she said, “have I got a surprise in store for you.” Lydia wonders if Fitzcarraldo is a supernatural omen of disaster. Then, she decides to take a nap. * 60
The tiles on the extended kitchen counter were never grouted, and by now Lydia has unintentionally filled the cracks with small and irritating crumbs of food. The cabinets must be pried open at the sides – the handles were never installed – and the pot rack rests steadily on the floor in one corner. There, as well, the ornate curtain rods Fitzcarraldo installed on a whim hang above the windows, curtainless. When Lydia wakes up, she surveys her apartment and is enraged at so much unfinished business. She looks through her bedroom blinds. Fitzcarraldo and John Edge, her main henchman, are sitting in the back drinking beers. Fitzcarraldo has a clipboard in one hand. Lydia puts on a bra, switches her sweatpants for actual shorts, and approaches them. “Hey Sweet Pea,” Fitzcarraldo says. She waves Lydia over with her beer-holding hand. John Edge spits on the ground.
“Look at these flowers,” Fitzcarraldo continues. “My nephew just put them in. They’re going to perk the yard right up.” The flowers run along the base of Fitzcarraldo’s new fence, which is waist-high and black, with little points on every fifth bar. French style, Fitzcarraldo calls it. The rest of the yard looks like the grounds of a funeral home, with thick stone benches, and thick stone planters filled with stringy, formerly leafy ferns. The yard’s focal point has always been a birdbath with a cherub in the middle, which used to terrify Lydia when she went out at night. The cherub only seemed angelic in the daylight; otherwise, its eyes sank in and its mouth pooled away, and it was poised to attack. “The flowers look pretty,” Lydia says. “They ought to. Those flowers were not cheap.” Fitzcarraldo coughs into the crook of her arm. Lydia feels the bones in her own: radius, ulna. “I wanted to talk to you about my apartment,” Lydia says. “That kitchen cabinet still hasn’t been painted.” “Hasn’t it?” Fitzcarraldo asks, looking stunned. “I had my son-in-law in there last month, and told him to take care of it when he put up the pot rack. He never got to it?” A trap, Lydia thinks. “No, he never got to it. In fact, he didn’t get to the pot rack, either.”
Tuscaloosa Runs This Fitzcarraldo looks at John Edge, who shrugs. He is a man who knows how to get things done, Lydia thinks. John Edge is the only person she has seen do any work. Fitzcarraldo should have told John Edge to put up the pot rack. “I’m sorry, Sweet Pea,” Fitzcarraldo says. She explains that her daughter and her son-in-law are getting a divorce, and so he didn’t finish some of the work. These were tough times for her daughter. There were puppies involved in the marriage, and her son-inlaw was trying to take them out of town. It was a whole big deal. “I understand,” Lydia says, “but I’m paying rent and I have no handles on my cabinets.” 62
“That’s because I was trying to find some pretty ones to put you on.” Fitzcarraldo looks blankly at her clipboard, then at the ground. She appears to be done with the conversation, which makes Lydia feel both unproductive and a little guilty. “She loves to make things pretty,” John Edge offers. “Want a beer?” He holds out a can. Lydia sees her hand reach for it. John Edge opens it for her and appears satisfied, and Lydia sits down on a terra cotta tile that has been loosely planted into the dirt. A Siamese cat sneaks out of a bush and runs across the yard. “There goes that cat again!” Fitzcarraldo says, reanimating. “I rescued two of her kittens. One was
orange, like that old tom that lives under your place, and one was Siamese. I took the orange one into my accountant’s and said ‘somebody better take this kitten.’ And the receptionist did.” John Edge confirms the truth of this story with a spit and a nod. “And I kept the little Siamese one. He’s at my house right now. I named him Edge, for that one, because he’s adorable and a pain in the ass.” John Edge laughs. Lydia wonders if Fitzcarraldo is in love with John Edge. He wears a wedding ring; she does not. “I could put up the pot rack,” Lydia says. “Sweet Pea?” “If you give me the tools, I could put on the cabinet handles. And the pot rack.” Fitzcarraldo assesses her tenant. She has offered Lydia work before, which the young woman declined. Lydia thinks on this now with regret. Fitzcarraldo looks at her list, and checks something off. She holds her pen and her beer in the same hand. “If you want to do that work, that’s fifty dollars in your pocket, honey.” John Edge nods. So does Lydia. Lydia will work for Fitzcarraldo. She will paint her own cabinets, and put up the kitchen hardware, and drape the gauzy curtains over the fake brass rods in the
Tuscaloosa Runs This living room. Then she will offer to do this work in the other apartments, in her area and elsewhere. She will water the perennials in Fitzcarraldoâ€™s funereal gardens all across town, and drink beers on the benches in the afternoon. It will be money in her pocket, and it will take her mind off things. And always, if she does not get the work done, Fitzcarraldo will explain to the tenants that her girl was sick, or having family troubles, or just couldnâ€™t make it around. She will say that the work will surely get done once her girl is having a good day again.
To Tuscaloosaâ€” Pia Simone Garber You yawning stretch of sky pressing flat these houses. Absence rooted in your soil grows down until plowed. Town like gasp of damp air flung across bloated river, wet-fingered, reaching out to stick cloth to skin. In your malignant summer, I fret green-leafed treetops, raked red soil overflowing, hum and smack of Palmetto. When sting and burn subsides, though some devils linger, among the magnolia trees grows a fragrant forgiveness. Early evening your breath cools on the back of my neck, the slap of fanblades eases the rub of intimate abiding. You town of wine and whiskey, laundry never fully drying, town of screen doors and front porch gardens. You town of slow roads, night-moan of passing train, and broken defogger obscuring gleam of moon in my rearview.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Late Harvest Southern autumn; wet like slap of river and all the fallen leaves are rusty blades trying to carve some seasonable chill out from the gourd-shell granite sky. Vulture night spins feathered shadow dark as spine undressed from skin, circles hollow avenues, bare-treed and faintly glowing at the windows. This mess is masterpiece, this shiver; wool of wood-burning moon scarved around lace neck and cobwebbed arch, the branches of dream-walking. 66
Damp-cut bone basin cradling the night, blanket of specters harvesting storm and whip of wind, scavenger vigil that feeds on flesh of the restless. Sputtering rain that wakes the train tracks, cast your funeral in the stony garden, O cover me in pebbles, keep a fire burning above me that I may sleep.
Tuscaloosa Ellie Isenhart Before Part 1 My dog doesn’t bark. No, she jumps. She cries. She kisses. She wants to love on everyone. In fact, since she was five months old, the only bark I’ve heard from her is anticipatory. She wants you to throw the ball, so she can chase it. So she can bring it back to you to wait and bark and wait and chase. When the exterminator came in early spring, she ran from him, afraid of his metal can of death. She cowered in the corner and watched as he ran the walls of the room. When he finished, he set the can in the kitchen and met us in the living room. He told my boyfriend and I that we will be good parents. He called J.D. over to be pet, and she met him with her feet in the air, awaiting her well-earned belly-rub. When the plumber came the morning of the storm (I hate how that morning will forever be “of the storm” instead of “of the kitchen-sink leak” or “the last day of class with my freshmen” or ) I was not home. I had stayed at John’s the night before, and the plumber arrived first thing in the morning. In the note the plumber wrote, he told me that she was shy at first. But then, when he lay on the kitchen floor looking up into my pipes, she greeted him with kisses and cuddles. J.D. has never known what it means to watch. During In the last five years, I’ve survived e. coli, an F2 tornado, and a 500-year flood, not to mention
Tuscaloosa Runs This two broken engagements. When I’ve told my mother about them, though, I’ve always downplayed the tragedy surrounding me. With the F2, I told her it was nothing. I could handle it. Then she saw photos on the news. Never have I told her that I stood outside the University of Iowa’s main library watching the debris swirl and collecting hail to see who could find the largest piece. And when I had e coli, I told her I was fine. There was no need for her to fly home to tend to me. In reality, if it had not been for my nurse-friend, Jessica, I would’ve likely died of dehydration or lived with kidney disease on the off-chance of my survival. While Mama knows Jes took care of me, she has no idea how close I came to death. 68
As John and I sat in his living room ( J.D. across town in her kennel), we watched the newsman. Here, they all seem to have the same name. This one was tall and slender, dark haired and worried. We watched the tornado touch down over the city on TV. When he began calling out street names, I called my mother. “Mom?” I asked. “Hi, honey!” “Hey. There’s a tornado, and shit just got real.” My phone cut out. Fuck I hissed. The cable went out. John was clearing out the closet under the stairs for us to take cover. He grabbed one of his guitars, and we sat together in the dark. I sent a text to my mother’s cell phone. Sorry to text. Towers going down. Under stairs @ John’s. 4830 University Blvd. Will call or text soon.
I don’t remember sending this text. My mother thanked me days later. “If I didn’t hear from you after the storm, I could’ve sent authorities there.” I agreed with her. I couldn’t tell her that authorities were unable get to the trapped. Couldn’t search for the dead. Under those stairs, John and I waited. The power went out. Our hearts raced. We exchanged I love yous. We cranked the weather radio. Strong gusts of wind, then silence. Moments After It’s hard to remember exactly what happened. I waited minutes at John’s insistence. Then I drove across town to J.D. My neighbor sent photos of the property. Of my blown-in windows. Most text messages were failing to send. I begged him in failed text after failed text to check on J.D. She was crated in the room where the glass shards and debris fell in. I drove to dead end after dead end. I didn’t know it at the time, but the space between John’s apartment and mine had been destroyed. Later, we’d overhear a National Guardsman say my neighborhood looks worse than any warzone he’s seen. He’s done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, I parked my car nearly two miles from my apartment and began to walk. Crawling through downed trees, around downed power lines. I can’t recall most of the walk
Tuscaloosa Runs This (which my counselor says is likely early stage PTSD), but I do remember the thick air and twilight. My clothes clung tightly to my body. My pants sagged. As I came closer to my apartment, I heard a woman ask a stranger, “What street is this?” When he answered, she stopped in her tracks. “This can’t be. This is where my house should be.” She breathed deeply. A guttural moan and a fall to her knees. “This is where my house should be.”
I found my living room filled with tree branches, broken glass, and a cowering dog. She cried. Before letting her out of her kennel, I grabbed a backpack I received from a friend the fall before. It had belonged to one of my closest college friends. A woman who had recently lost her life in a rafting accident. A woman whose body wasn’t found for months. I packed the bag full of J.D.’s things: food, toys, bone. I also threw in a few shirts and pair of underwear. I let J.D. out, tried to tape my broken window, and we began the walk home. She stayed close to me and flinched with the sounds of sirens and chainsaws. All we could smell was pine and broken gas lines. T + One Week Fights with landlords, a new attorney, registered with FEMA. Everything is new now. For the first time in my life, I’m living with my boyfriend. And I can handle all this, except this new side of J.D. As I sit in John’s (our?) living room, J.D. watches out her window, growling and barking at the maintenance men passing by. John told me that this morning, J.D.
heard the pest control man before he even arrived at the door—she was across the apartment and kenneled at the time. Each time she sees someone new, she moans. If they come closer, she growls. If they do not hear her, she barks. Loudly. She’s just big enough to intimidate strangers. Right around 40 pounds, she looks like an over-sized Jack Russell with tiny blue flecks. But when she barks, people stop. I scold her, of course. I tell her to be nice, to be quiet, to calm down. And sometimes she does. But if I leave the room, she follows. If John leaves the apartment, she cries and paces for an hour. My once-independent dog doesn’t know how to be alone anymore. She doesn’t know how to face new things. So I wait. I watch her sleep in the sun next to me, and I hope. I hope she can someday forget the things I struggle to remember.
Tuscaloosa Runs This The Republic-ed Joseph P. Wood And by chance Odysseus’ soul had drawn the last lot of all and went to choose; from memory of its former labors it had recovered from love of honor; it went around for a long time looking for the life of a private man who minds his own business; and with effort it found one lying somewhere, neglected by the others. –Bloom’s translation of The Republic, Book X
There are handful of time times in my life where I–if I am a person of any character or substance–-marvel at the immediate generosity, leadership, and urgent expression of my fellow colleagues and friends. Others, like myself, hang behind the scenes. Regardless, disaster reinforces my belief that when push comes to shove, people more than not are altruistic and empathetic. It is often routine and privilege that distances ourselves from our goodness. It is the desire to set onself apart. Take, for instance, There is a bumper sticker campaigns. Usually, I wish to barf when seeing a car littered with them-–the easily distilled politics, the solo accomplishments of one or one’s child. There was an exception: one time when I saw a former New Orleans resident post to his van New Orleans: Proud to Swim Home (I think there’s also one that uses Crawl in place of Swim). I thought about, oddly, Odysseus in Plato’s Republic, who after all the honor from the corporal world was gone and he waited on a body to enter, he chose the body of a private man.
Plato, if I am right, meant that the philosopher ultimately should settle down into the community; the person of greatness or of public rank needed, at the end of the day, to be common in order to have a home. When one spent time building a selfcongratulatory reputation, one set oneself off from the public–one holds oneself off from friends and companionship in the name of valor. Odysseus, one of the greatest heroic characters in antiquity also, at the end of the day, was one of the loneliest. Fate, of course, had much to do with this, but when given the chance in Plato’s world, the hero wanted companionship, community, a home. I was born in Philadelphia and it is my town of birth. But it was not my home as a home implies a haven, of which I found little. I went to school in Vermont, Boston, and Tucson. I never saw these places as my home–I was set-off from the population, in my own little bubble–these were transition points in my life. I am, beyond all belief, at home in the Deep South. Tuscaloosa is my home. I have friends who will no doubt move on. I have been to funerals and weddings here. I have made friends with people from all walks of life. There is no guarantee it will be my home forever, but I have family now–and I don’t just mean by marriage or blood. People, I think, treat home as a basic assumption a lot of times, an inherited right. It is not. You build it. A wind beats the shit out of it. Then you rebuild it.
Tuscaloosa Runs This I have read papers calling Tuscaloosa like “Libya” or “a dry Katrina”. It is not. Those places are those places– they don’t belong to me. I feel for them, but they are not where fate and choice have landed me. Tuscaloosa is the shoreline. It may not always be. But I have left the boat. These are not ruins–just artifacts the living collect before making new ones.
Two Tornadoes at the Gate Laura Kochman And the wolf walked round and round the tree, looking at them with hungry eyes.
- “Peter and the Wolf,” Sergei Prokofiev
Home, 2005 The familiar basement dark, the houndstooth carpet snarls the wolves of the night lair, of the good girl alone in the forest, of the wolf before Peter caught it, gray as a thunderhead outside the gate. Of the black and white carpet, interlocking, that fingers traced, following the path laid out like the storm. Of the white sky. Of the dogwood outside the window, whipping around to lasso the wind. Of the snarl and retreat. Of the wolves who became dogs. Of the outside edges of candlelight, the thin blur between being eaten and being eaten alive, the duck’s heart beating inside the wolf ’s stomach. Of eyes glowing yellow in the bushes. Of the edge of the front yard, the property line, all the grass blades laid flat as though walked on. Of a hand holding a flashlight, of no damage done by the imaginary, the imaginary claiming the parts of the lawn that we cannot see. Home, 2011 It becomes a cavity: we shudder down, a spike coming toward us, a sky foaming at the mouth. All the shapes we counted, all the forest animals wispy in the sky now swarming. Now growing extra heads. At the bottom of the library, someone gnashes their teeth. Now the stampede comes. We place our bellies on the ground
Tuscaloosa Runs This andâ€”how is it possible that these bones have not fractured, that our own perfect bodies walk between horizontal trees, still sweating in the humidity? Where is the moment of impact? In dark rooms we have locked small pieces of ourselves, our duck hearts beating in cracked bathtubs, interior hallways, tucked down from clouds and wind. We do not yet trust the breeze, and we breathe in the white down of insulation, feathering our bodies on the inside, swallowing it like it swallows us because we have not yet determined if we are being followed. We trace the ridges of our lost landscape, the damp fists of roots overturned, the chessboard of empty foundations. The clouds say, hello have you missed us 76
Sometimes Last Call Means Get Out And Sometimes It Means Finish Your Beer Madison Langston a nightstand or a bedroomâ€”seatbelts a window? Some nights I went home alone, some nights I didnâ€™t.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Let’s Pretend We Don’t Exist because drinks. because okra (pickled) because fists and fingers, because accidents. because headaches. because there’s one on each side of you. because someone said so, and meant it. because heat and then noise. because ‘like a g6’ made sense, though not often. because Baker/or Bear. 78
because you don’t eat, but sometimes you do. because gin. because modest mouse. because basketball game is on. because we loved each other, I think.
Ways We Survived It listening to Leonard Cohen, river water, cigarettes not thinking about those who didn’t Ways We Survived It Part Two Whiskey Warren Zevon ‘Run This Town’ on repeat the internet 79
Tuscaloosa Runs This Statement of Teaching Philosophy Jennifer Gravley I would like to teach freshmen the difference between than and then. More accurately, I would like to teach college freshmen the word than—that it exists and how to spell and use it.
My approach to teaching changed radically one spring morning when one of my freshmen asked me for a pencil. The boy behind his empty desk was asleep, earbuds nestled deep within. Only a handful had books or paper to write on; fewer still had done the reading. I was still missing essay #1 from many of them. The room was divided into two roughly equal camps: those who didn’t understand comma usage and thus threw many commas into each sentence at random and those who didn’t understand comma usage and thus used no commas at all. I flashed to my other job, in which I folded and refolded stacks of t-shirts emblazoned with beer logos. As soon as I folded them, stacked them according to color, logo, and size, and turned my back toward the looming wall of striped buttondowns, someone the age and attitude of my students would tumble the table until it looked post-orgy. Or else someone a little younger, overeager to affect the attitude. These were often the worst, trailing behind distracted or disinterested parents with paunches and unseasonable shoes. My student still stood hostilely grinning before me, his hand outstretched toward the pen in my hand. There were only two class minutes left. We had been correcting comma errors in drafts of potential thesis statements, essay #4, for the past thirteen. I grasped my pen firmly in both hands and told them all to go out in the sunshine that was unfairly shining just for them.
I walked in the dank shade of brick buildings to my apartment. The sidewalks seemed more populated than usual with the covers to sewers. Many were steaming or hissing. I gathered labeled folders of worksheets full of sample sentences culled from authentic freshmen compositions. I asked my neighbor for a crowbar. I sometimes saw his girlfriend skulking in the shade of the humanities building overhang. At night, her screams were like a stochastic alarm clock. He didn’t hesitate. The first cover was hard to pry off, the next, easier. It was a learning curve I hadn’t seen in a while. I dropped files into the humid darkness, folders and all, between the student ghetto and campus. When more remained, I headed downtown, the way of overpriced coffee and Holocaust-themed record shops and air-conditioned havens where parents could buy their coeds short shorts with school spirit emblazoned across the ass. I bent and dropped handouts into grates, into the openings under sidewalk edges that I knew sucked rain and Styrofoam cups into the abyss. I had no idea, however, what message my ass was sending. The Thursday following, my hands still marked unintelligibly with grease, the state of existential despair you call in your ad “introduction to college writing” passed without incident. I ignored all commas, all empty spaces where commas should have been wagging their tails. I walked home without the faintest stirrings of nausea; my bowels weren’t constricted with anxiety. Suddenly it was easy to give up all punctuation. Without punctuation, it became instantly possible to ignore run-ons and fragments. Handbooks went the way of sample sentences. I became less despairing. I stopped bringing paper to class. If I had a pen on me, I threw it into the trash before I swung open the classroom door. When
Tuscaloosa Runs This I thought about my life before this revolutionary approach to teaching freshman composition, it no longer seemed worth living.
Today, I held a stack of pink fleshy blank evaluation forms in one hand as I wrote my name on the board with my other. Several students were still getting it wrong. I had already decided not to read the evaluations. Heavy bouts of humiliation debilitate. The top form had to be peeled from my sticky grip. Ink smeared the question, what one thing that you have learned in this course has proven most useful? And I thought, one thing. One thing. I thought, be specific: one word. This is how I make a difference. I thought, I can help them understand the world. What ifâ€”I gave them a word they could use to compare thingsâ€”? It could pry open their perspectives, cause them to view, to consider, two things at once. And if there is a greater gift than this, then I implore you, give it to me.
This Is A Test Of The Emergency Alert System B.J. Hollars directions: To the best of your ability, please answer the following questions: 1.) How many times can you say “devastation?” 2.) Please use the following in a sentence: “strewn”, “flipped”, “sifting”, “sobbing”, “spinning.” 3.) Define: Death Toll (Hint: This is NOT the toll one pays for death.) 4.) True or False: You were just a little scared. 5.) These are the dimensions of my bathtub: 58” x 30” by 16”. If my wife, dog and I tuck ourselves inside, will we be a perfect fit? 6.) Which of the following is not currently found in my bathtub? a.) My wife b.) My dog c.) Me d.) Tornado 7.) Which of the following activities are best performed while riding out a tornado in your bathtub? a.) Secret sharing b.) Storytelling c.) Dog petting d.) Scrubbing out your tub.
Tuscaloosa Runs This
8.) Which of the following is the proper response after surviving a tornado in your bath tub? a.) Calling family b.) Calling friends c.) Waiting for a cell phone signal d.) Continuing to wait for a cell phone signal e.) Leashing your dog f.) Thanking God g.) Introducing yourself to God h.) Introducing God to your wife and dog i.) Living up to your part of the bargain j.) Exiting your house k.) Wondering why all of your plants are still upright l.) Drinking a beer m.) Drinking two beers n.) Drinking zero beers and remembering your part of the bargain. o.) Making a joke to lighten the mood p.) Impersonating the Cowardly Lion: “It’s a twista! It’s a twista!” q.) Understanding that the tornado did not miss everyone, just us r.) Knocking it off with the impressions s.) Pouring out the beer t.) Going for food u.) Going home v.) Lighting candles w.) Telling your wife what you meant to tell her in the bathtub x.) Remembering your part of the bargain y.) All of the above z.) Some of the above
9.) Which of the following quotations has been fabricated? a.) “People laid blankets over the bodies of neighbors…” b.) “First responders didn’t attend to the dead.” c.) “The earth went to moving.” d.) None of the above. 10.) Where is the silver lining? 11.) And what do you mean when you say “gone?” 12.) In the space below, please draw a picture of anything but this. 85
13.) Which of the following tools most efficiently removes fallen trees? a.) Chainsaw b.) Axe c.) Bow saw d.) Poem
Tuscaloosa Runs This
14.) How did your students respond to your attempts to contact them? a.) With kind assurances of their safety b.) With concern for your safety c.) By writing you a poem d.) By writing you an email e.) By asking you for her final grade f.) By thanking you for an “awesome” semester g.) By wishing you the best of luck h.) By wishing you no ill will (despite the B-) i.) By informing you that his car was found two miles from where he’d parked it. j.) By apologizing for the late paper—”The tornado ate it.” k.) By asking for extra credit l.) By asking “pretty please” for extra credit m.) By asking you for your story n.) By asking you what she’s supposed to do now o.) By asking you the definition of death toll p.) By asking you if he’ll seriously never see you again q.) By telling you she’ll facebook you someday r.) By telling you he slept through it s.) By telling you that composition class taught him little of survival t.) By telling you that African-American lit class taught him little of survival u.) By asking, “What is the use of tornadoes?” v.) By writing, “The nightmares won’t quit coming, will they?” w.) By writing, “TTYL” x.) With silence y.) None of the above z.) Some of the above
15.) Where does it hurt the most and why? essay: In the space provided below, please allow me with the opportunity to talk for awhile. You can understand, Iâ€™m sure, the necessity of talking, or of writing, or of overexposing an issue like a dark room left to light. In this essay, please attempt to imagine my great relief in waking up the morning after. Consider my minor inconvenience in having to sleep in the sweat-soaked sheets. Do you believe the world is quieter when there are no lights on? And what are your feelings of a town turned twisted and inside out? How exactly does an exterior become an interior? How exactly does a roof become a floor? True or False: Question 4 is the only one that matters. Please provide specific examples below. __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ ______
Tuscaloosa Runs This Smoke Barry Grass It’s been a week since and all I can think about is smoke. It’s not that there are fires or anything. It’s the lack of them, the absence of smoke. Cars ran out of gas; less exhaust pluming up into the farther-than-itshould-be horizon. People ran out of cash, the ATMs were shut off; cigarettes were either carefully rationed or smoked gone in a stressed hurry; Egan’s was closed until the power came back.
I can’t deal with the absence of wood smoke. The barbecue joints have been closed all week. Tuscaloosa has dozens and dozens of barbecue joints. It was the first thing that I loved about this place. I grew up in Kansas City; Tuscaloosa is only the second city that I have called home; both cities are redolent of applewood and oak. My first day in Tuscaloosa I went past a crimson shed on 15th Street. I craned my neck backwards in the van to catch a full glimpse of it. There was an old smoker outside in the parking lot, and an even older one in the cylindrical annex attached to the side of the building. The store front had two circular Coca-Cola signs above the door, each one sunfaded to a dandelion yellow. The main sign, replete with cartoon pig head wearing a chef ’s hat, asked patrons to “Come In and Pig Out With Us.” And I would do just that, many times over the next year. I came to know the red checkerboard tables and the sweet tea served from a giant trashcan and the varied ways that Mike & Ed’s Bar*B*Q would serve up smoked hog. You can get the chopped pork: cubes of fleshy pig, your choice of three sauces swerved on the side. You can get the
chipped pork: finely pulled strands of pork shoulder mixed completely in an orange, mustardy South Carolinian sauce. I prefer the sliced pork: pieces of Boston butt as thick as a Snicker; a pink rainbow - the smoke ring - separating flesh from fat; charred crusts of bark, tasting deeply of smoke, along the outer edges of the meat. Most of all I love the beans at Mike & Ed’s. They cook the beans at the very bottom of the smoker, so that little crunchy bits of spareribs or succulent ribbons of pork shoulder fall down into the beans, making them all the more rich. Mike & Ed’s sits lakeside in the Forest Lake neighborhood of Tuscaloosa, one of the areas hardest hit by the tornado. Most every house around it has been completely leveled. The red brick restaurant still stands, mostly -- the large signpost was hurled across the parking lot, the smokers are destroyed, that cylindrical room has vanished, plenty of plywood holds up the holes -- but who knows when, if ever, it will re-open. It could have been worse; Full Moon Bar-B-Que was entirely swept away, erased. In Northport, across the Black Warrior River, the smokers at Dreamland Bar*B*Que were pushing out clouds of carbon just two days after the tornado. My roommate Brian and I went and ate barbecued sausage and Dreamland’s house appetizer of processed white bread and tangy sauce. In spite of the televisions tuned to news footage of destruction, in spite of an extended camera shot of a child’s lifeless body being carried away on a sheet of plywood from an Alberta City ruin -- his father howling in pain in the back of the shot -- that brought me to stunned tears, I was grateful to be there
Tuscaloosa Runs This in that barbecue joint with that plate of spicy sausage in front of me. I find more comfort in barbecue than anything else in the world. The day will soon come when, back across the Black Warrior, Tuscaloosa’s smokestacks become active once again; when I can walk into Archibald and Woodrow’s and order the nickel-thin chopped and pulled pieces of pork, doused in a sparse sauce of pepper and vinegar. The smoke will return and we will eat together again and we will say to each other “this is what ‘normal’ is now.”
Time & Space in Tuscaloosa, Alabama Katie Jean Shinkle Negotiation of time, these many minutes to door to cellar to bathtub to mattress cover and blanket from my grandmother before she died of whatever she died from in Nashville, TN when I was ten. A sound like fire, like the garbage truck at six am, like the time I threw up in Laurence’s bathroom and covered it with a rug and didn’t tell him for a week, the drip drip-high pitch, the moment between the sweat-shakes and the projectile, it’s coming, it’s coming. I call and say this isn’t real, can we just go to Publix and get some cookies, I’m starving and the lights go out and the sky is Oz and the screaming like train whistles mere blocks from where my head is between my knees in a closet nestled in between the houses of my friends for blocks. Negotiation of space, how many minutes until the sky has turned hue again, sitting on a porch when a friend in a house nestled next to mine says you ok, going to check out things down the street and we didn’t know anything then, how just miles away has been whittled to absence, whole buildings carried and landed, a nothing nothing, someone yelling where is my baby, can you find my baby but we don’t know this yet, we know we don’t have electricity or internet or phones but we know we’re together, together. Negotiation of time, these many minutes before we realize a town is not just a town is not just a town. Everything is gone, everything is gone, everything is gone. The phone calls flood when they can, the towers are
Tuscaloosa Runs This overloaded are you safe, who is missing, who is accounted for, can we find this person, can we find that person, I think my student is missing, I think my student is dead, where are you where are you where are you where are you where is my baby can you help me find my baby she’s gone I can’t find her. We drink beer the first night, begin to rebuild in the morning, begin to lose it immediately, it being our selfishness and self-absorption, our minds, our anger at place, circumstance, the past years. Where are you, where are you, are you alive, everything is gone, gone, everything is gone.
Negotiation of space, how many minutes until I leave because I have to, we will sleep in the same bed for days out of stress, out of fear. We will wear dirty clothes, eat at friend’s houses, some will work and some are numb, some will leave and some will stay. My arm will curl around your waist and you will settle into my shape and we will sleep only a few hours a night, in dirty clothes, but together because we can’t let go of the city yet, we can’t let go of each other yet, I don’t want you to leave, I don’t want you to go, just stay one more week, stay one more year, where did the time go, I can’t believe you have to leave, I don’t want you to leave. I will weep in my few hours of sleep for so long that I don’t know when I will sleep without weeping. You will say in your sleep just leave me alone and that means please don’t go I can’t believe this happened to me, to us, to our city, what do we do now, I love you. Negotiation of time, minutes and days, the body count steady then rising then steady then rising and we laugh in order not to snap, to break, to breakdown, to fallout, to go insane.
My student is dead, my student is recovered, where are you, what time is it, what day is it, what can we do to help? There are root systems of trees like mass transits, where is the Krispy Kreme, where is Taco Casa, where are all the buildings, where is my master bedroom, where is my car where is where is where is where is? Gone, gone. Negotiation of space, the minutes before silence, before breaking, before we all lost and regained and lost again, the minutes before realizing sometimes emotions lie and Derrida and heartbreak and I got published here doesn’t matter anymore because. Because. Because. Because. Our last night in the same bed you said I can’t believe its over as in I was leaving tomorrow morning, these nights of me holding you with your back to my chest covered in my grandmother’s blanket not the pain of destruction, of root systems showing, of where is my baby, where is my baby, of being caught in a lie about place that we’ve told ourselves for years.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Tuscaloosa Love Poem Jessica Fordham Kidd When I sit on a high river bank, downstream from the dam, I love you. I see oil refinery firesâ€”
beautiful bright ovals, and I mark my way home by themâ€” ovals to the west, north, or simply getting smaller. At the little airport I watch blue lights guide antiquated crop dusters and the aerial photographers out to record our last green spaces. They are fairy lights in a cotton field. I stare and stare until cats begin slipping in and out of a storm drain.
Tuscaloosa, The Penny, and The Train Alan May I see the woman everyone calls crazy. She waits ahead like a dancer, and the sidewalk is like a ballroom floor on which she smiles, turns, and reaches for my naked hand. I donâ€™t know how to refuse: every night bottles break in this town; stars litter the sidewalk, the road on which I walk; like an iris, the moon stands in the sky. Cars pass; their headlights spill our shadows on the road. Red lights flash up ahead. The train whistle blows. The arm of the semaphore comes down behind us. The woman lets go of my hand. She speaksâ€”no one in this town has ever mentioned that she could. She says, I want to put a penny on the tracks. I consider crossing, leaving the moving train between her and me. She fishes a penny from her sock and puts it on the rail. The train wails, passes smooth as a boat between the tiny yards of the tiny houses, a rushing that makes my eyes burn.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Iâ€™m standing five feet from the rail. Her white dress waves in the wind like a flag.
Excerpts from Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon Winx Michael Martone An essay on signs of signs I wonder who owns the Moon Winx Lodge sign. Probably the same person who owns the Moon Winx Lodge. The motel itself, brick colonial barracks arrayed on terraces behind the office hut, is worse for wear. A few rooms appear occupied, even lived in, the accommodations now week-to-week. The place has gone to seed, gone way past seedy. Now, no hourly rates offered for trysts or assignation. No, the house here has the air of flop—buckets with old-style mops and those extruded resin chairs, mismatched, on the shattered cement porches. The owner’s let the place go. But the sign out front is another story. It’s funny because the instrument for attracting the trade is now the attraction. The crescent moon curls inward, its horns pointing over to the ruined venue. Check it out, the moon urges. It has checked out. But you can’t take your eyes off the sign. It looks brand new or, more exactly, brand old, an obvious relic of some preinterstate motoring past, a past when air conditioning was a selling point not simply a given. The lights all light. The paint is fresh. From the look of the sign, you would think this is a going concern instead of place that is long gone. When did this happen? One day the owner awoke from a night of troubled dreams to discover the sign was the principle investment, was worth saving even as the rest of the property decays. There is actual kudzu growing up the walls of one of the wings. The pool is fenced and filled in. The sign
Tuscaloosa Runs This generates no cash that I can see, and yet it is maintained pristine. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the South, maybe the whole country is fond of those cast iron markers. The ones that are erected on historical sites, the ones that preserve memory, the ones that denote some significance. I canâ€™t wait for a sign commemorating the Moon Winx Lodge sign to be dedicated next to the Moon Winx Lodge sign. Not in the place of where it once stood but right next to it. Perhaps the owner already dreams of this, is not waiting for a committee somewhere to act. The sign has already transubstantiated. It is an existential sign. It is itself. It stands for itself. It is its own memorial.
An essay on atmosphere The novel Write Your Heart Out: Advice from the Moon Winx Motel was written by Geoff Schmitt and published in 2000 by Small Mouth Press. It is in the form of a writing how-to manual with insider tips, exercises, and prompts, but the story of its fictional author, down on his luck, bleeds through in a patchwork narrative. The picture of the sign on the cover of the book has been tinkered with. Lodge replaced by Motel. I suppose the revision was poetic. Motel seems the natural appellation, alliterative with Moon. But in the history of the Moon Winx Lodge using “lodge” averted ones attention from “motel,” its bad rap and rep. For a while the Moon Winx itself was associated with the Quality Courts, a loose cooperative of motels trying to spin the image. This is a classy joint, Quality said. There is something poignant and classic and very noir with the book’s whole set up. The writer struggles with his work at a cheap desk in a crummy unkempt room while an oversized neon sign flashes hypnotically just outside the window, the window frame reframing the words, scrabbling the meaning. Geoff Schmitt went to writing school up the road at the university. I imagine him contemplating the sign just as his main character does, absorbing its aesthetic radiation, its atmospheric juice. Me too. That’s me looking at the moon. A big chunk of that oversized moon fills my window as well. Its smiling bright-eye stare stares back at me. Then blinks.
Tuscaloosa Runs This An essay on night and day
Glen House, Sr., designed the Moon Winx Lodge sign in 1957, added the crowning touch of the crescent moon to the preexisting crossword of the Moon Winx Lodge. He told Rick Stoddart, an architectural writer, that it wasn’t so much the medium of neon that excited him but the new Day-Glo paint he had on hand. The Moon Winx sign is really two signs. Night and day. The paint—bright yellow for the moon and pastel green for the placards with the cream colored lettering—has its own charm. At night, the outlining neon in warm oranges and reds also interacts with the reactive paint. The cooler color tubes spelling out the name, announcing the “Restaurant” (in a different font) the “telephones” and the “air conditioned” adjective look, in the reflected illumination, as if they have been both burnished and embossed. The sign is scaffold-shaped with Moon Winx running horizontal at the top and Lodge a vertical slash, narrowing where it hits the scalloped base with “Restaurant” and “air conditioned” and “telephones” footnoted there. The moon seems suspended from the craning sign. Its face is a sublime one with pronounced cheeks and chin, nose pugged, arched eyebrows, and a smile positively puckered, a Moon a Lisa. The profile works as the moon’s topography, as the ragged shadow cast on a rough surface, a pimpled penumbra. The moon faces away from the road that was once the main highway to Birmingham when the sign first went up. The moon then casts a coy eye over its shoulder. A come hither. The moon moons the highway, turning its back on the traffic, both shy and an exhibition. The contrasts are most striking. Day and night. Hot and cold color. The severe angular geometric alphabet wedged next to the sweeping free-hand sine curve of the animated moon.
Oran for us Erik Wennermark Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. -Albert Camus, The Plague
Marilyn was hooked up to the I.V. in her chair at the Berkshire clinic and entering her 3rd hour of chemotherapy when the first text came in: “Why is Alabama full of tornado warnings/watches” the message asked. I absently looked at the words, barely reading them, and stuck the phone back in my pocket. A couple hours later, after we’d returned from CVS to refill her Ativan prescription (nerves and nausea), get some Prilosec (chemo-related heartburn), a bag of potato chips (post-treatment treat) and other sundries, another text came through: “Tuscaloosa is flattened.” I wrote back incredulous, what? A storm? What part of town? What are you talking about? “Taco Casa/McDonald’s on 15th street is gone... All of the 15th street... Hackberry Lane gone… Alberta City.” These were vast stretches of Tuscaloosa. In one video some kid took from his porch—it had to be one of those cookie-cutter condos that litter the University Strip—the funnel dwarfed Bryant Denny Stadium. Even Bryant Denny, the monumental edifice of Tuscaloosa, filled with 90,000 screaming Roll Tide fans every game-day and inspiring fear in our SEC foes, cowered at the foot of nature. Whenever I’m telling clever Tuscaloosa anecdotes, witty yarns about my time in “the South,”
Tuscaloosa Runs This I invariably bring up “the game-day experience.” That’s when I tell the bit about how, when full, Bryant Denny Stadium becomes the 4th largest population center in Alabama. I’m not even sure if that’s true. To be safe I also mention the Barbecue Nachos of whose veracity and delectability I am certain.
An email even more than the videos brought it home. Words from a friend—a mother—rather than a stranger’s youtube: “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through Erik,” she wrote. “I just stood in the hallway of our house with my babies in my arms while one of the tornadoes ripped up everything around us. I thought we were going to die.” She said she was glad I didn’t live in Tuscaloosa anymore—surely my plywood shack of a house wouldn’t have survived (amazingly, I gather it did). Marilyn looked sick for the first time to me the other day. She’s obviously lost weight, looked tired, but now she looks sick. Her face drawn, thick, dark rings around her eyes, her chin covered with acne that the chemo won’t let heal. It was the first time I could really tell she was sick; I guess I was inured to the change, but then I saw it, all of a sudden and without warning. I saw a picture in the newspaper of Hobby Lobby. It was blasted. I used to buy paint there. Did Target make it? Home Depot? I wonder. Apparently they killed Osama. Ten years and however many billion dollars later. I got a text about this too and flipped on CNN in the hotel Marilyn and I were staying at in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A pack of twenty-somethings caroused and yipped all over
Ground Zero waving American flags. What where they, 10? 12? when 9/11 happened? I wondered. Must be very cathartic for them. I was practically close enough to feel the shards of glass on my face that morning. I breathed the air of those buildings’ burning guts for weeks—if I get cancer it’s that, not the Marlboro’s, I’m blaming it on. But, to be fair, those patriotic revelers were raised in the shadow of that day and I was already skeptical of such tribal unities. It could be true too that I am looking for my own Tuscaloosa catharsis here, from a similar distance. Tuscaloosa missed out on the national show of celebration I fear. I imagine my University of Alabama composition students would have been particularly excited by bin Laden’s demise. If the timing had been different all of UA would have expressed jubilation at the news. Bleeping horns and Lynyrd Skynyrd up and down University Boulevard. Leaving Tuscaloosa, I never wanted to go back. That softened a little after some time. I began to feel nostalgia for the place, the friends I made, the time I had. But looking upon the devastation, I know I’ll never return. When they rebuild, they’ll rebuild ugly. More cookie-cutter student condos. New look strip malls, Panera and Starbucks and Best Buy. Yes, when they finally opened the Barnes and Nobles in town I went too, but with great reservation. Tuscaloosa may have been dull at times and prone to exacerbate my alcoholism, but at least it wasn’t like everywhere else in
Tuscaloosa Runs This this country—when I first arrived it could have just as well been El Salvador, so different and unique it felt to me. I fear when they rebuild—if they rebuild—it will be just another strip mall suburb along the highway. The same shitty stores in the same shitty architecture. Clean and modern and lifeless boxes dropped to earth. Maybe they won’t even bother to rebuild—won’t be able to afford it. Give Tuscaloosa back to the land and the bugs—a few less Barbecue joints to darken the world.
A friend just told me that Mike and Ed’s, my favorite Tuscaloosa barbecue joint, didn’t make it. Mike and Ed’s was my lunch of choice in Tuscaloosa: affordable, succulent and lovely, pulled pork with coleslaw, a side of potato salad. More than one relative received a bottle of Mike and Ed’s special sauce in their Christmas stocking. God I loved that place. I hate Tuscaloosa. That’s not even true, seems cruel to say given recent events. I hated me in Tuscaloosa. Its pace, its stickiness, brought out my lesser demons, sapped my ability to resist their imperious call. I drank a lot, said a lot of things I shouldn’t have, did a lot of things better undone—or at least not done over and over again. I didn’t write enough or good enough. Have enough sex or too much with the wrong people. I wasn’t me or found out who I was. I saw that Charlie Sheen visited town. Donated some obscene amount of money to the recovery effort. Gave a shout-out to a girl I knew from the local bar. That’s nice, though I suspect “tiger blood” has something to do with Auburn.
Salem, Massachusetts is a funny town. Very witchy. It seems the people, young, old and in-between, think that by living the myth of their town—becoming vessels of contemporary witchiness in the world—they will somehow undo the notoriety they brought on themselves over 300 years ago. But in doing so, they perpetuate the same. How many Wiccan supply stores does one town need? We went to Salem, and then on to Portsmouth, after Marilyn finished her three-day session of chemo. The last time I visited her—when she had the cancerous section of her colon removed—we visited Melville’s house—an experience I enjoyed tremendously—I was surprised by my awe standing in the room where Moby Dick was composed—and I thought it might be fun to make it a pair and walk around some of Hawthorne’s old haunts. So inspired I wrote Marilyn some lyrics to a guitar part she was working on. It was a straight rip of Young Goodman Brown. The boy was 11 or 12 and he was not having a good day. Four nurses and his mother crowded cooing around him: it would be over soon, be brave, be strong, as he cried out in pain and fear—they were adjusting his mediport or some such. He had lost his hair, was rail thin, his face sunken and ashy. His pallor was all wrong; a boy his age should be pink and he was grey. Dusty, dirty grey. His tears ran black down his face. Like the old couples looked at us, we looked at him: too young to be so sick, and he without a partner, too young to have yet had one.
Tuscaloosa Runs This It’s Marilyn’s 34th birthday. She’s wearing the pump in a fanny pack—an I.V. comes from her port to the pump, circulates the poison. I call it her “VCR,” inspired by her dad’s wire-happy entertainment console. Be kind and rewind. Her port I call “Battle Pig”—it juts out like a pig’s snout, slashed with a scar. A warrior pig drinking poison. In the afternoon we had a picnic in the backyard and fell asleep in the sun.
Inkling Erin Lyndal Martin Driving through a thunderstorm in early spring, from my only body in your only passenger seat, I reach out my hand--phalanges, flesh, epidermis, blood, I am offering you so much through the windshield the sky is record static and it looks like I am trying to hold it, but my hand is inching from my side, past the gear shift, over to your body. I curl it to the scallop of your shoulder, the pale lump of your tricep, the underexposed hyphen of whiteness above your elbow. You watch the road, drive us through lightning, nimbostratus and afternoon, dropping pressures, storm centers, Georgia. The earth is full of ozone, not peaches. The point of touching you was to make you look at me.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Banana Tree
Sean, your banana tree is dead as can be. it’s dead, it’s dead, it’s deader than me. And the pansies you didn’t plant, well, they sprouted sour faces. They made me think of you. And the sidewinders are coming— last night I saw two—and the flowerpots dripped and the flotsam stank. The creek that crashed beside the train is mud. The rivers won’t yell. Innocent sweat stinks summer feet. You’ve been gone so long, I’m beginning to think we didn’t meet. We weren’t there. We never did. Green heat lightning scissors up fat clouds. I’ve never smoked a pipe. And I never thought I would marry you. But then the hinge creeks, and I think in yawn and need. Mosquitoes are incessant. I am not in vogue. I baptized myself in a hot wet creek. My panties squished. My anklet sank. I think we would have ice-skated if winter ever came. I think it didn’t. I think it won’t. I think I’ll stomp my foot off right into this hot dry heat.
Fight Song Rammer jammer, I must’ve been hit with a yellow hammer, shoulda left you back in Alabammer. Ersatz nightmare, pantaloons, everything about you is passé and fake. I’ll stop fucking you when you stop being a dick. I wear my yuppie overcoat. I ignore you plaintively. Notice the puppy who doesn’t whimper in the corner, who doesn’t adore you, I implore you, please sir, can I have some more of the gravity of your acquiescence. I’ve seen you stare me into obsolescence. I am tired of want. I want the kind of tired that comes from giving up. Already I imagine you in a house that’s made of doors. The sound of shutting like an advent calendar but without the wait. Sidelong, sideways, cast a glance like the good old days, when I was fuckable and you were clean. Scorpio scaredycat, your lackluster agenda renders me wan and sore. When you leave I turn off the light. Or I turn off the light to make you leave. This algebra is deafening with its backwardness, its irreversibility. Can I covet you like a math of loss, can I leave your reign of terror bleeding in the bath? You hide from me in thoroughfares overdosed on your own goddamn savoir fare.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Covertly I accrue an aversion to you. I think, I think, I drink. Bye, bye black sheep. You and me are through. This wool you’ve spun upon my eyes, see me unwind it here tonight. I’m unwinding it and now it’s mine.
Sing, Tuscaloosa Steven Casimer Kowalski Side: A I sang a lot in Tuscaloosa. Ask my roommates. The walls of the houses and apartments I lived in were thin. I sang to myself in the shower, while I dried off and got dressed. Whenever I was in the kitchen cooking anything I sang a song for it. Sometimes those songs belonged to others; UGK, Tom Waits, Miami Sound Machine. Other times they were vignettes I made up myself to describe some facet of my action. Iâ€™ve heard people do this kind of thing as a Mnemonic. But I was just singing because singing is fun. And when I am alone and unwatched I feel truly free to sing whatever I like. Inevitably these songs would spill out when people were around and generally they received them well. Typically, the tunes were one-offs with a nursery rhyme melody and 2 or 3 lines. As soon as they came out of me I forgot them. But one of them did stick in my mind. And it is something born in Tuscaloosa on 13th Street between 9th and 10th. I lived in a brick house on the north side of the road and bought weekly groceries on a graduate studentâ€™s wage. The shopping list was what you would expect a single, male graduate student to buy. It was mostly things that kept. There were very few products likely to spoil inside 6 months. Sometimes I bought bananas. Lettuce? No thanks. And while I love baby spinach I can seldom take down an entire bag before it goes bad. Thrown in with all the neon ramen would be a stick of deodorant, a toothbrush, Clearasil and a stack of frozen, microwavable meals. I took hard
Tuscaloosa Runs This to those single trays. My favorites were the personal pizzas. The box for the particular pizzas I liked said, in huge, excited letters, “Pizza, For One.”
“Pizza, For One,” became a four syllable song and my only single with airplay. It never actually played on the radio, it was only about 6 seconds long and had three words, but some of my friends heard me sing it and they actually liked it and sometimes sang it too. If you’re looking to continue the legacy, just sing the words, “Pizza, For One,” slowly and sadly, like Paul Robeson sings Old Man River. That line on that box evokes a sad and pointless existence. And every time I took one of those pizzas from the freezer and set it atop its little Apollo-moon-lander tray and put it in the microwave I would bellow out, “Pizza, For One.” Because when you’re making one you are never more aware of your own loneliness. Even if someone else is around, they are probably eating something better than what you’re eating. They probably have dinner plans. Those pizzas were how I signified my feeling of sadness and even projected my loneliness onto others. At the check out lines I would look around for other half-grown men and see who was shopping with similar self loathing and childishness. Where was the other man still buying Gushers? And where was he going? Where did he live? Was he also 28 and living in an apartment with no heat because to turn the heat on would mean having to call someone to come out and inspect the floor furnace which just seemed like too much of a hassle? Did he also consider his bathtub a Petri dish? How late did he sleep in on Tuesdays? And did he also refer to Wal-Mart as “The Market” because it made him feel better. “Pizza, For One.”
Side B: The pizza jingle wasn’t my only song. 2 or 3 three people can sing it which does make it my greatest hit. But lamenting my pizza was tiresome. And I didn’t want to feel like that all the time. It wasn’t the kind of feeling I could shake on my own. It wasn’t the dismal that will just evaporate. Despite how happy I was in Tuscaloosa sometimes there was just a rut in me. It wasn’t the cities fault, or the doings of the south. It wasn’t being far from familiarity or a lack of contact with beauty. It was just me. It was just my insides wired up as they are. There are simply nights when I need a kickstart. Perhaps the reason, “Pizza, For One,” actually stuck both with me and others is because, to date, it is the most accurate public admission of my own fears and shortcomings. And ultimately those things are fucking boring. So how do you fight that? Well, might as well fight song with song? And luckily, there were plenty of other people in Tuscaloosa who could sing and who did so in places beyond their kitchens. I probably heard Ham Bagby sing Shit’s Crucial 35 or 40 times. It is a pure and lovely Tuscaloosa anthem, a song born of a dare or a drinking game or a late night bucket of fireworks. The lyrics are a series of couplets all ending in “shit’s crucial.” They simultaneously mock and embrace perceptions of the south and it is funny as hell and also honest and sweet. Ham himself is one of the most wonderful people I met while living in Tuscaloosa. He is a motivator. He is gigantic. He brings sick guitar riffs and laughter with him. And I know he wants to make Tuscaloosa better and better so you should just go on and give that to him.
Tuscaloosa Runs This
Probably my favorite Tuscaloosa born song is Virginia (State Park) by Blaine Duncan and the Lookers. Living there, whenever Blaine was playing I would ask him to play VSP for me even if, or sometimes especially if, I couldn’t make the show. The song always sounded to me like a much better version of “Pizza, For One.” And it makes me wonder if man can express his true feelings with three words on the front a pizza box or if I should just give the whole thing up? But Blaine does good working dragging his soul through the mud for us to hear. And so I owe him a bit of thanks. And I won’t neglect the Lookers who sound good on the record and can be an absolute monolith of sweat and soul live. There are dozens, and I am not exaggerating, dozens of bands starting and stopping at any given time in Tuscaloosa. Some of them stick out longer than others. This is typical of cities of a certain size. But the thing that always held me up in Tuscaloosa and what rends my heart now that I am gone is the quality of their work. The Dexateens, The Woggles, The Necronomikids, Abbie-Go-Go, SDX, Mansfield… these bands were/are all legit. And all smashed up against one another in that small big city. After the storms Blaine found his way into an interview with the LA Times. They said he was a local teacher. And he is. Dandruff by Baak Gwai was the song I played as I drove my car out of Tuscaloosa for the last time. I am sure now, as I was then, that I will drive it back. But then, as now, I don’t know when that will be. The song is about departure and memories and it is the perfect mix of individual sensibility, southern shimmer, and the Archers of Loaf. To be honest, the song absolutely breaks my heart. The lyric, “I remember the times
when we’d ride in your mom’s car, listening to SDR,” feels like something written by someone who watched me live when I was 16. It is shameful that I never thought kids in Alabama listened to Sunny Day Real Estate like I did. It insults both Bama and SDR. But that’s how I felt. I’m sure it is how lots of people feel because it can be easy to overlook Alabama. Had I not lived there. Had I not seen Baak Gwai at 2am at a house party at the corner of Hackberry Lane and the railroad tracks, I might say the same thing. But I was there, and it was a privilege. Some of the bands I mentioned are gone. Some of them are still around. You should do your diligence and look up a few of them. I know for a fact some of them are already playing shows in the wake of it. Go see them. Or invite them to your city to play. Give them money and buy their records and make them dinner. Go tell them they are doing a good job and they will tell you the same back. I suppose before this is over I should give a moment to the amateurs, the karaoke singers at the One More Lounge, Jackie’s, and Leland Lanes. And I owe a special debt to the jukebox at the Downtown Pub on which you can play Bro Hymn or Show Me Love. And while I was never a fan of that bar on the strip, you know, the one with the outside speakers. Once I was walking through the grocery store parking lot, a bag of brand new pizzafor-one’s in my hand, and that place was blasting the theme song from Killer Clowns From Outer Space out into the night air. You could hear it three blocks away and I walked those three blocks happy as could be.
Tuscaloosa Runs This The Second of 25 Things About Sam Martone Sam Martone 2. Sometimes, Sam Martone feels as though he is cut in half, as though there are two Sam Martones. There is the one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the one in Galesburg, Illinois. They are the same, really, it is just surroundings that change, but these are two worlds that see him completely differently; when his feet cross state borders in long car-rides or short flights, he is wholly transformed, for there is no pair of eyes that can see everything he has been, not even his own. These two worlds, they are separate, and they separate him cleanly, starting at the navel, making a fork in the timeline, history rewritten before it can happen. 116
Sam Martone feels like time stops when he leaves one place, and it only resumes when he returns. He is sure every piece will remain in its right place. But that’s not how it works, is it? When he comes back (to either place, the world of scorching summers where his teeth became straight, or the other place, where he learned what snow really meant) everything is always different, in a state of perpetual change. His life, no matter where his feet are geographically, appears to him as time-lapse photography. In Alabama, his brother has always grown another few inches, he is nearly as tall as Sam Martone, though the distance of five and a half years has restricted words between them to video games and music. The last time he saw him, Sam Martone could swear he saw the cracks in his brother’s ventricles, and the pain felt all too real: those moist-eyed nights up in mom and dad’s bed, those thoughts that wouldn’t leave, Sam Martone knew those too. In the dark, Sam Martone and his brother could be mistaken for twins.
Outside his home, Alabama has become foreign to him. There are new shopping centers sprouting like weeds, and an old lover has found a new boyfriend, one who looks all too familiar. It is brighter, here, than he remembers it, and not as warm. Southern accents, they can sting, yes, sting, like fire ants. They come from sharp tongues and rough hands, and Sam Martone feels as though he has forgotten his first language, or never really learned it at all. There was always something strange about the way â€œyâ€™allâ€? rolled off his tongue, he cannot reconcile with the words of this world. He is a stranger in his home, and he has forgotten that he always was. In Illinois, upon disembarking from the plane, he notices the season has changed again. It always does: this is a place where he can only steal certain images from the calendar, where the warmest weather and the shortest days are lost to him. The people here, they change, too, usually rebelling against the time of year: smiles are warmest in the winter, conversation driest in the rain of spring. Autumn leaves are the only trustworthy reflection of these 1350 people (children in adult bodies, living packed so close together, yet not close at all). The colors of the leaves read like Braille, and if you are able to trace the veins before they run dry, you will hear: everything is changing. There are ghosts in the fall, he sees their pictures in the cafeteria, their experiments in the science hallways, their poems in the literary magazines. Every once in a while, someone will mention them, and there will be a brief glimmer of recognition, of understanding, as though meeting someone you used to know, when you were very small, and then the moment will pass, their
Tuscaloosa Runs This bodies dissolving into smoke or dust or steam, floating off to wherever they are now, which is some place no one knows of. There are people to take their spots, too, to fill the gaps they have left, and these new people are just starting to feel themselves being split in half, the threads of the world they left behind still tugging at their tendons.
To his friends and family back home, to his classmates and professors, Sam Martone knows he changes, too. He can feel himself taking up more space, not just physically, but in the heads of everyone around him. He worries he will grow too large for anyone to see what he really looks like, they will have to look at little pieces of him, like someone not quite inside the frame of the camera lens. He worries no one will hear the words he says, or the words he wants to say, they always seem to come out wrong. Soon, he will deflate, he will not exist, he will become a ghost like all the others. And what of the other Sam Martones? The one in Syracuse, New York, who waited in the unforgiving, sunless cold with his father for a bus that never came, who knew Hebrew, who forgot about the threatening messages left on the answering machine? Or the one in Boston, with blond hair, who could name all the state flags? Where do they go? If Sam Martone returns to the place of his birth, will he feel the infant wail building up inside him, will he forget how to walk? And the blue house in Syracuse, is there still a PlayMobil toy lost on the roof ? Can Sam Martone remember when he named the attic the Cloud Room?
His brother, too, is becoming another Sam Martone, at once just alike and entirely different from all the others. His brotherâ€™s voice has dropped so many octaves that when he calls, it is as though he is talking to himself. Sam Martone thinks about how he will tell himself that the hurting does stop, that all this stuff you feel about girls and friends now isnâ€™t going to matter in a year, trust him. And he thinks about what advice he will ask of himself, he will ask himself how to stop all this halving, quartering, all this stretching and dividing. Sam Martone feels as though he has spread himself too thin, that he cannot be everywhere he needs to be. But he is not a big enough man to be everywhere, to be everything to everyone. No, only pieces of Sam Martone will lay hidden in the dying kudzu of parks, in the alcohol covered basements, crushed or cherished in the palms of hands. When he returns, finally, to find these fragments of himself, there is no assurance they will still be there.
Tuscaloosa Runs This The Last One Kirk Pinho tuscaloosa
& i carried it: a ruby of blood found on the sidewalk &i should’ve wrapped it in a grocery bag & timber-hitched the butcher’s twine around the handles & first-classed it to my dying grandmother but in tuscaloosa the devil don’t take anything any place it should go no more more more no more & a couple days ago i called my mother in orlando from michigan & said home is gone & i don’t know yet & enjoy the beach ∞
two years ago & the sepsis twitch & maggie moon eyes both thought i was some seer of all things holy & the dead transmission gut jacked all to the side in a hackberry parking lot begged to differ & my little kitten triaged to 15th street burn ward & frogâ€™s tongue ripped from its jaw like it was magnetized along the banks of the black warrior river & cigarette butts & sewage foam congregated & there is an invisible fence around memory & there is attitude & consequence to our ICUs âˆž [& how the fuck dare you misappropriate my homily & how the fuck dare you regurgitate my requiem]
Tuscaloosa Runs This ∞
a couple days ago i’m sure there was a fish hook wound grinning across someone’s sad dog’s sad stomach & he cried like the train cries & like a dart cries on its way to the board at egan’s & like the chimes cry & like the beer bottle cried when i blew across its lip [it serenaded me] & like my student cried when the girl she sat next to was hurled through a windshield & like the windswept game-goers cried & like i cried when i was an aria, a song that i never learned to translate ∞ loneliness ain’t unambiguous & one time
you & me fucked like wrecking balls & i saw stars in the sky & i guess it looked a little like that & the other time you & me fucked like wrecking balls, maybe the skyâ€”a blindfold of leavesâ€” just forgot about us a short while
Tuscaloosa Runs This Reflecting Mirror: Orlando, the Day After Colin Rafferty I want the light to shine through.
My wife and I are in Orlando-—the Kennedy Space Center, actually, an hour out from the land of the Mouse--and in front of me stands the massive Astronaut Memorial, tilted, tiled panels of black granite with names on them. It is the day after a tornado has hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, passing through our old neighborhood, destroying the houses around the house in which we used to live, killing dozens. I am trying not to think about this too much, trying not to think about how, had we not moved to Virginia three years ago, I might open my front door this morning to a landscape of destruction, of trees bent and broken, roofs peeled off and scattered a state away. So I am thinking about dead astronauts instead, here at the Astronaut Memorial. This is what I do in time of trauma, when I cannot put together the facts of the problem in front of me; I put together the facts of some other problem. And the space program is so good at this, at figuring out what went wrong. Apollo I: an oxygen-rich environment bursts into flames. Challenger: low temperatures warp the O-rings, allowing hot gases to compromise the external fuel tank. Columbia: debris at launch damaged the shuttle’s wing, leading to the vehicle’s breakup upon re-entry. This could happen with the tornado, too; meteorology could explain why the wind and humidity started spinning around each other faster and faster, why it turned at the stadium to head into the Forest Lake
neighborhood, maybe even why it just blew a branch into the living room window of my old house instead of tearing it down so that no stone stood atop another, the way it did with houses a block away. But too much will remain unknown, more than mathematics and simulation models could ever reveal; no explanation for why the tornado took a path through the working class neighborhoods, why it stayed on the ground for so long, dragging its massive self across the town, erasing so much of what I knew about my wife’s hometown, my adopted town. Known: the final words spoken on the shuttle. Unknown: the final words spoken in the house. I can’t put any of this together in my head, so I am looking at the Astronaut Memorial. It is a tilted set of black granite tiles, a reflecting mirror. Tiles have the names of deceased astronauts carved into them—some I know, some I don’t. Some I learn about only because of this memorial, those who died in test flights and car wrecks and commercial plane crashes. Each name is golden, bright, and I learn later that when the memorial was first built, it turned so that the sun would reflect off parabolic mirrors through the names, illuminating them. However, after a few years, the motors broke down, and now the names are illuminated artificially, lights shining on them even on a day as bright as the one on which my wife and I are visiting.
Tuscaloosa Runs This
I want to think about this light most of all, the way that light moves through a landscape to commemorate the dead, to say that they are remembered. I want to think about the names I know, the names I have just learned, the names I know are alive and the names I will learn have died. I want to think about the house where my girlfriend and I returned to, engaged to be married; the bedroom and how the light came in each morning. I want to think about a landscape torn apart, a district of destruction, a neighborhood about which my neighbor Andy, whose house survived solely because all the trees fell away from it, writes: Without the trees, sunlight comes into the house in strange and unexpected ways. I want to think about a parabolic mirror and broken motors and frozen O-rings and forecast models and how all of it, all of it, lets the light shine through.
For The 15th Street Taco Casa Josh Tucker There are two types of people in Tuscaloosa: those who love Taco Casa, and those who don’t. This love is not a spectrum; it’s an absolute, and those who have made up their mind are hardly ever swayed. The reason for rigidity is, I believe, the nature in which you’re introduced to it. Your first experience should occur either while you are young enough that the oddity of West Alabama’s desire to create a local Mexican fast food chain escapes you or simply too drunk to care. These cactus-logoed taco huts require small windows of innocence and incoherence, a stay of time, because that’s what they provide. The first restaurant opened on 15th street in 1974, and subsequent franchises were modeled after the same ’74 specifications, indeterminate of the year built— replete with an upright ‘Galaga’ arcade machine in nestled in each restaurant’s corner. Despite, or because of, the decision to add standing arcade machines and the insistence to serve eat-in food on plastic take-out trays, Taco Casa is a popular Tuscaloosa landmark. It outnumbers Taco Bell 2:1, though it is more expensive, and, according to locals, hasn’t changed, or tried to change, since 1974: the menu is the same; the drive-through trays are lopsidedly loaded into your paper carry-out bag with rarely-secure tops; the liquid cheese still scalds. Its popularity is confounding to those who live outside of Tuscaloosa, and the company doesn’t care. It is this attitude that endears the fast food restaurant to the city. They are kindred. Tuscaloosa hears similar complaints to it complacency; its comfort
Tuscaloosa Runs This with the past. March 6, 2010 was the first Sunday Tuscaloosa residents could legally purchase alcohol, the first time when girls in sundresses could exchange their mid-church sweet tea for high gravity beers. It was bundled with a bill that added more red-light traffic cameras to the city’s busier intersections. It barely passed, and a repeal is in the works. These changes to the city, though small, are generally fought by University of Alabama alumni. Tuscaloosa’s knack for, let’s call it, habitual reflection, brings a certain level of comfort to them. It is the city they always remember. The city they just left, and where they will inevitably return, most likely with children in tow.
It’s this nostalgia Taco Casa taps into. Similar to the was-eventually-going-to-occur blue law referendum, the chain was always expected to move beyond the confines of Tuscaloosa. It has planted a restaurant as far north as Birmingham. Though Tuscaloosans find this placement alarming, Taco Casa, comfortingl, wants you to know: flirtation with the Steel City is a ruse. On their website the company has constructed an odd mishmash of a “Locations” section. It cites fourteen restaurants, but there are only seven listed. There is no mention of a Birmingham franchise, or any other franchise outside of the city. All seven listed locations are in Tuscaloosa—now there are six. The historic 15th street location is still listed; Birmingham is not. You probably don’t know who Marty Lyons is; you aren’t really expected to. He played football for the University of Alabama over thirty years ago; he played ten years for the Jets, and now he runs a foundation for children with special needs. He is
the current spokesperson for Taco Casa. He appears in commercials with his three young sons, eating tacos. The commercial appeal isn’t, entirely, the AllAmerican lineman who was integral in a play known as “The Goal Line Stand,” but a father, eating tacos with his sons. Lyons was born in Pennsylvania, but here, with his sons, he is Tuscaloosan. They are Tuscaloosans, eating tacos. These are the windows of possibility for this city— a time of delicate imprinting of refried beans and rice on the young soul. Maybe, for those who’ve lived there, it can’t be helped. You foster a love for this city despite its anachronistic flaws. The city takes us in, and our Taco Casa caters exclusively to us: adopted Tuscaloosans. It’s the only fast food restaurant that serves drinks in Styrofoam cups because they understand Alabama heat and its withering effect on paper cups. It makes us feel like family. We didn’t grow up with the taste of sauce-soaked taco shells always on our tongues, but that’s okay; it’s a generational decision whether your blood runs mild, hot, or extra hot, and the world looks best through the grainy plastic bottom of a 1.11 cent sopapias bag. There are still six Taco Casa locations in the city of Tuscaloosa.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Residual Brooke Parks I want to tell you how to leave this place for the last time. I want to tell you: leave the chipped red bowl beneath the crack in the drywall. Or the rain next month will drown all this room has to offer its new family. But I am balled up in our first married bedroom. I can tell you nothing. 130
I want to tell you about the faint grey line left on the kitchen linoleum. Stretched from stove to sink, it could mean nothing else: No solvent can erase us from our home. I want to tell you to take three crates. Fill them only with our Tuscaloosa favorites: Sav-A-Lot’s Mornin’ Gem Cornflakes. The Cypress Inn’s fried green tomatoes, extra sauce. A shaker. (Roll Tide.) Two pounds of The Nut Shop peanuts, wrapped in burlap. One of Jesse’s birdhouses, red A scrawled on the front.
Give one crate to the boy above us, tell him we forgive him for puking on our grill. Give one to Mr. Miller when you ask for our security deposit. Bring one with us. A crate full of the meaningful and meaningless of this place. But I am still in the living room, unable to breathe. I can tell you nothing. Everything is in the van with you, except me. What is it to leave a place for the last time? I want to tell you. But I am on the wide green steps, walking away, not knowing.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Disasters and Those Who Endure Robin Mozer This will not be what you are expecting when I say that I am going to tell you about Tuscaloosa.
I am not going to tell you that Tuscaloosa is the best place or a special place or even a better place than whatever you have heard because we all feel that way or come to feel that way about places we choose to call home. I am not going to tell you about traditions or greatness or legacies. I am not going to talk about live oaks or river boats or the number of churches rising up from whole city blocks downtown. I am not going to tell you that there is no place else like Tuscaloosa because the truth is there are many other places very like Tuscaloosa, so to claim originality would be, at best, a romantic farce. But Tuscaloosa is the first place I owned a home. The first place I went to vote on matters concerning local funding for public roadways or curbside recycling. The first place I ever paid property taxes and thus, the first place I ever cared where those taxes went and why and wherefore. And so, for me to tell you about Tuscaloosa, I have to tell you about the Eastlake Garden Club. Let me be clear at the outset: I am not talking about a homeownerâ€™s association. The Garden Club is not a homeownerâ€™s association; although its members pay dues, we have no rules regarding what you may or may not do to your landscaping. We have no community pool. Every Christmas, the Garden Club takes a portion of the dues and buys presents for a local
charity to give out to poor children. Every summer, a portion of the dues pays for the trimming of the grass and bushes at the front entrance to our neighborhood. The Garden Club is a women’s only affair. When we first moved to Eastlake, the club’s perpetual president, Bonnie, appeared at our carport door (because neighbors never, ever use the front door— that door is only for salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses) with a small gift bag containing a candle and a tea towel and an invitation to the next Garden Club meeting. Our neighbor across the street, Martina, offered to walk with me on the appointed night and time and I accepted, glad for the company of one who knew what to expect. I asked if I should bring Stephen and she laughed as though I’d made a joke. “Why would you? The Garden Club is for women.” The most interesting part about the Garden Club is that we never, ever talk about gardening or gardens or anything involving dirt, really. Once, we had a man from Bonnie’s church who runs a lawncare business come to talk to us about the best way to maintain our lawns, something that all of the women nodded and looked thoughtful about before they went on to compare the practices employed by their various lawn services and then implored the man from Bonnie’s church to sing because he had made something of a reputation for himself by impersonating Elvis for various church functions. Everyone said he was very good. But aside from that, most of our meetings consisted of updates on who was in the hospital, on whose children or grandchildren were exceeding expectations, on what was supposed to be happening with the new supermarket that was
Tuscaloosa Runs This slated to go in opposite our big road and what it might mean for the Walmart. There was always punch, typically consisting of some juice product mixed with Sprite or ginger ale, and always pound cake, sometimes homemade, but more frequently the kind bought at the local supermarket bakery.
My husband and I were only the second owners of our house, which had been built in the 70s. Most of the Garden Club was comprised of original homeowners—the people who bought land and built their modest, three bedroom ranches and split levels in which to raise their families. In which to keep their punch bowls and cake plates. They told me the history of my house, couched inside stories of their own lives. They told me about the tree that had fallen onto the back corner during the tornado outbreak in the late 90s or early 2000s. They told me about the azalea bushes in my front yard (the ones I wanted so desperately to chop down) how the blooms cascaded in white abundance in the spring. The Garden Club is all white, for all that we lived in a fairly integrated neighborhood. When our lovely, bright red push lawnmower was stolen out of our carport in broad daylight, Maimie declared it must have been “those Mexicans” and the rest of the Garden Club nodded and murmured in assent, despite my protestations that surely a lot of other people might also be interested in my red lawnmower, standing, as it was, in plain view of a fairly unbusy street. “What Mexicans?” I asked. They looked at me pityingly. One even patted me on the hand.
Depending on who was sick or who was tired or who had just had surgery, the Garden Club’s attendance for our monthly meetings ranged from 6 people to about 14. Some months, we met on Tuesday nights at various members houses (we signed up on a schedule that Bonnie brought). These were the nights with the punch and the pound cake. Other months, we met for a late lunch at a local chain restaurant—usually Chili’s or Logan’s Roadhouse, because these were close to the car dealership where Bonnie worked. Husbands were welcome at these lunch meetings and some would come and chat and drink weak beer in the middle of the afternoon because that’s just what you did at Chili’s or Logan’s Roadhouse, and they would smile and turn the discussion to sports and talk about football and all the women of the Garden Club would laugh. These meetings were everyone’s favorites. When my house was broken into one fall (long after the lawnmower incident), it was the Garden Club who recovered a box of my sterling silver jewelry, none of it worth very much, but most of which had been given to me, at some point, by my parents. A few of them had been on a walk and found it lying on the side of the road. When my husband took a new job in a different state and I plunged headlong into remodeling our home’s interior to make it more appealing for buyers in a down market, each member found cause to stop by, some of them bringing meals, all of them curious to see exactly what we were doing. To know exactly what they would be missing out on. When Bonnie asked, “So where did your husband learn to do this?” and “Who did you hire to do this?” and I said, “Actually, Bonnie, I laid that floor, there. I cut those
Tuscaloosa Runs This tiles. I installed that quarter round,” she hmmed and turned, instead, to what she would have done with the drapes. When we sold the house the next fall to an African-American couple in their late 60s, all of the women were disappointed. To my knowledge, they have never invited the new owners to a Garden Club meeting.
My husband and I are now pregnant with our first child. We have been living apart this year—he started his new job in Kentucky last fall and I stayed to sell our house, then to finish out my teaching contract with the University of Alabama—and now friends in both states are excited about the child’s pending birth. At the meeting last month, the second Tuesday in April, long before the front that produced the storm system that spawned this god awful mess had even been predicted, the Garden Club threw a small shower for me, bought us our Pack n’ Play and a children’s book, and sat patting my arm and telling me stories of their children when they were small. We had punch and pound cake. It was very sweet. I do not doubt that the Garden Club will, at its next meeting, decide to donate a portion of the monthly dues to some tornado relief effort, most likely one sponsored by someone’s church. They will talk at length about the tragedy, about who is in the hospital, about how sad it all is. They will remember thirty years ago when you could see the hospital like that, perched on its hill, with no trees blocking the view. Some of them—those who are not too sick or too tired—will have gone to volunteer, sleeves up, in
full makeup, like so many of the women I have seen this week in te warehouses, in church parking lots. Some of their husbands will be out running chainsaws or coordinating deliveries of relief goods with their churches or directing traffic in overcrowded donation center parking lots, because they are good, good people and they know how and when to offer blessings upon their neighbors. I am not telling you about the Garden Club so that you may judge them. What I am telling you is this. That those of us from elsewhere will lay claim to this disaster and name it our own. That we will adopt our causes and raise our monies and give and give and give of ourselves and our time and our own spent energies until we fall into our beds at night caked in grime and a dread that is not our own because our own homes are fine. But long after we are gone from here, moved to other cities and other ventures—long after we have swept through and left our small marks like so many storm systems—the Eastlake Garden Club will endure. Those who chose to settle here. Those original homeowners who built their houses on plots of land long before even the Walmart. Those who have raised families. Those whose bodies will one day be buried under the live oaks. And if we would know this place—if we would truly know this place we seek to redeem or renew or restore—we would put down our causes and out indomitable good will and our judgments about the women of the Eastlake Garden Club and listen.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Because they are Tuscaloosa. The Eastlake Garden Club. The members. And the nonmembers. And all of the things that keep them separate. And even as we claim this place, they tell us its history, couched inside stories of their own lives.
Mother-in-law Land Brooke Champagne My mother-in-law is not an asshole. Some of my friends have assholes for mother-in-laws, and assholes for mothers, and work with such a whole shit ton of assholes, it’s a wonder how they get by at all. My mother is funny, loves the word fuck in all its variants, but is otherwise the epitome of poise until she has consumed two drinks. Then, she is known to do almost anything, as evidenced by one of my last trips to visit her in New Orleans, when after two bloody marys she grabbed my breasts and hailed, “I made these!” On her third drink she straddled my knee and stuck a knuckle in my crotch while my stepdad took a picture. The face I made was one I’ve seen on my father in pictures of long, long ago. None of this would offend my mother-in-law, who certainly has a sense of humor. She does not particular like fuck, but she doesn’t mind when I use it. The first time I was introduced to her, she said three consecutive sentences: “You are beautiful. Luckily Brock’s smart enough to know that. I really love Brock’s father and I’m so proud of him.” My mother-in-law speaks her staccatoed sentences without a shred of selfconsciousness. In the South, a woman saying what she means unapologetically is a euphemism for asshole. In my mother-in-law it’s conversation. I’ve spent most of my life in New Orleans, my motherland—born there, witnessed three divorces, got ribs kicked in, gained five sisters, lost one through divorce, almost lost one through kidnapping, got
Tuscaloosa Runs This pregnant and unpregnant in it, got Katrina’ed by it, learned to drink and fuck and smoke in it, and as soon as I wed, left it.
Those who have assholes for mother-in-laws perhaps wouldn’t understand, but I’ve come to view Tuscaloosa, where I’ve lived the past three years with my husband and dogs, as my mother-in-law land: a new, grown-up place to remake ourselves away from where our mothers made us. Mom-in-law-Sandy, here’s what I found in Tuscaloosa. How to be a teacher. That my students’ rah-rahing about all that is Southern stems not from callowness, or as my mom would say, asshole-ness, but from self-defining—they love their mothers too, and aren’t very far from their motherlands. That eighteen-year-olds rightly speak in their mothers’ tongue, since they have yet to meet their mothers-in-law. How to be a wife. When to pick from the blueberry bushels behind our house, fill three Tupperware bowls and promise a pie. Then, not being the pie-making kind, wait till the next time Brock and I get drunk to throw blueberries in each other’s mouths from across the room, letting the dogs chase down what we don’t catch. That it’s okay to rent, since we own nothing but love for each other. The names of the pink feathery flowers out front, azaleas returning perennially without our asking. Sandy, you really need to visit. Tuscaloosa, just like you, really means it. Tuscaloosa makes me really mean it. As you might say, home is where the home is.
Drought Alex Chambers Where the ground snaps apart. A long brightness. Days of sun. Clackety clackety clack. The blank space at the end of a badly mixed cassette. Where the ground goes snap. /
Models suggest that anthropogenic forcing should have caused a small increase in global mean precipitation and a latitudinal redistribution of precipitation, increasing precipitation at high latitudes, decreasing precipitation at sub-tropical latitudes, and possibly changing the distribution of precipitation within the tropics by shifting the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. /
I clung to the idea of moisture. I clung and stretched, flaking flame while, next door, children wilted like hydrangeas, lacking a prophet, an MLK Jr. or a Captain America, dreaming in sheetless nights one of them might come back. Faith, of course, is letting go. I stood in the Tuscaloosa dust garden imagining a cloud of locusts, a century of blue, the tallest trees toppled to frame churches and empty grocery stores.
Tuscaloosa Runs This I was no big self, just one vast I, needing wide watersheds and explosive storms to clock in to Tuscaloosa every morning with no one to follow and decades of mistake at my back. /
Intertropical Convergence Zone: also known as the Intertropical Front, the Monsoon Trough, the Equatorial Convergence Zone, the Doldrums. /
the corn our farmers planted
(clear black gold) canâ€™t last keeps
if the drought
make it drought-
intolerant record losses predicted
to stubs okeechobee get
the blueberries shriveled
cypress their feet wet drinking
florida fires across acres of suburbs and woods pushing burnt ghosts of wrecked homes north through Alabama beyond clouds of expectation, aggregated wanting, congregate in my blue mind, waiting for a word from that pulpit it will all be okay the ground snaps again the long empty honeybees when smoked rush in to save the hive /
so this is
Tuscaloosa Runs This Nature abhors a vacuum they say. So low pressure systems call Americas’ mouth
Nothing sucks said my science teacher sophomore year before Mr. Fitzgerald killed himself and Mr. Colgan vacated with a heart attack. Something always pushes in from outside. New teachers or scabs who, broke and hungry, cross the line. Storms. Weeds. White-tailed deer in the absence of natural predators. It all fills, does it? A sky empty of clouds for twelve weeks makes you wonder if there’s any force out there to depend on. Faith, of course: not needing it. /
Stand there in the sun watching butterflies land on flowers preserved with plastic sprinklers and hoses drawing from under the dam. Worry there’s nothing, any more, bigger than you. No inch of ground unphotographed, no unbuilt shadow, no drought not made by pious men with axes and plans
that the spin of the planet itself is somehow engineered. Could be a comfort, that control. Something to look up to. /
Snap. A rising tide in the air! Just a summer breeze. Another rising tide! Another summer breeze. /
Sheep farmer Ben Mannox responds to interviewer about the Outback’s Big Dry: Ya fight it, ya work through, and ya pick up your pieces and on ya go, because breakin’ down or givin’ up isn’t goin’ to achieve anythin’, so ya gotta git up and git goin’. /
Red dirt lay exposed like flesh wherever I built a home and dust clouds streaked into the trees in the hot stormless wind, while below the dust, clay baked and cracked into desert pavement, like the spot where the Son once let go of all his TV hope, finding the image of a father when sage sparked and led his desperate mind to revelations it’s too late for now, as scientists explain away the irrational rain. My own father’s walked the cracks singing through other dry spells and knows, unknowing, the green. On certain hot worried nights: dreams of going back to that home.
Tuscaloosa Runs This /
Attempting to loosen the soil so hose water would have a chance to eke its way in, my neighbor stood on his garden fork and rocked it back and forth painstakingly and after hours of tearing up his shoes and fighting the wedged-in fork had a short row of chunky clay to plant cowpeas in and hope they survive Tuscaloosa’s Tucson summer. 146
In the Chuang Tzu, the Cook Ting cut up an ox with dance-like grace and ease. He simply inserted his knife in the spaces between the joints, and in nineteen years he never once sharpened it, explaining
If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room. /
9.13.07: Drought Spoils Farmers’ Ethanol Dreams /
How many seeds in cracked clay wait to shoot life toward the sun? Faith, of course, is needing it and letting go. If rain came, weeds would fill our lawns, our beds, the cracks in our concrete, our pipes and our old cars’ leaky trunks in this Southern heat. We couldn’t walk if the rain came for the kudzu and unidentified thorned and lusty vines creeping through our well-dressed souls. The seeds right now are dormant. Like the unbaptized. Dormant like the hardened Winn-Dixie cashier who hasn’t noticed the possible bend in a misty, drifting evening. Afraid, we sit in church, plan a strict watering regime, uproot unplanned thoughts and toss them into the chafing wind. Or we wait to taste the mysteries the letting of rain will bring. /
Sitting here on the old wooden porch I can almost hear rain on the packed ground that tries to refuse what will ease its life— moisture offering to slide through tense days. There’s no god here but a slow fall, a continuous binding of cell to photosynthetic cell, ground to seed, of asphalt, of caterpillars to stems, of thyme and its affection for hardscrabble days, of gluten molecules ready to stretch, of cowpeas and fat, of bullet and deer in a forgotten slough, of dominant seventh to one and the plagal cadence on Sunday mornings, the binding of words to weeks, of mind to assumption, so the nights can fall free of doubt.
Tuscaloosa Runs This recombination of ions frog bellowing for sex in the yard oceans steaming into the sky crape myrtle still in fertile bloom no thunder but a sense of arrival as the red and pulsing sun goes down and a few crows launch themselves toward its path the dew settles, unsnapping, loosening our hold allowing motion through the humid air
What I Will Say When They Ask Chris Mink When you return you will count the last one hundred miles home as you have always done. You will call and text all of those still here, and you will play the songs that remind you of her and of him and you will desire something fried, and you will smile the way you smile when you are certain no one can see, and yes, you will do the same things, and yes, those same jokes are still funny, and yes, those two are still fucking, and no, you will not believe it. You will not wipe this place off your hands with a napkin because you will lick it from your fingertips so that everyone may hear, or you will sop it up with white bread because all we have is white bread. Yes we still drink the same booze. Yes you would like something different, something with citrus that reminds you of high school and you will tell us that story again and we will laugh and love you, and yes, we would like another. We will always want another. * Tuscaloosa is gas station wine and pine cone fights and homemade biscuits and cockroaches the size of red wagons and a thousand women you want to sleep with and a thousand men you donâ€™t. It smells like autumn and sheet metal and smoking meat and exhaust from a truck you need a ladder to step into and a Crown Vic on twenty-fours with all the metallic the world ever intended painted just on the hood and red eye gravy. It tastes like black eyes that are really purple and gold teeth that are really gold, honeysuckle and mosquito
Tuscaloosa Runs This bites, the blood on a child’s knuckles scraped clean on pavement and the treads of the tires they kick because, “I’m not hurt, goddamnit, I can do this,” because they did not spend their entire Sunday piling dirt and splintered plywood just so dusk could dance wicked on a wreck. This is not an end.
I did not find baby dresses beneath busted two-byfours, did not find busted two-by-fours nailed to Alabama’s humid exhale, but someone did and she told me under a magnolia tree standing in blooms that may or may not have fallen onto our hands, the ones covered in sap and gasoline and cut sharpening chainsaw blades or rescuing the jagged sword of a Ninja Turtle figurine from a prison of scattered brick, and this was something. We are all safe and nobody is safe and navigating that is something else.
Soul Food Rebuilds This Adam Weinstein It’s yesterday and about 50°, which is weird because the day before yesterday was 85°. And that’s weird because it’s April—er, now May—in Tuscaloosa, and it should be consistently hot—although not as hot as it will be in June, certainly not as hot as it will be in July, and, well, this is the time of the year when people forget about how absurdly unlivable it is here in August. “It’s too hot,” they say now—but that’s because they’ve forgotten about August. Four days ago was the Tornado, and now I’m warming myself against the Banjo Cooker—a 20 gallon pot that fits onto a propane burner—which is full of collards, a few smoked turkey necks, and a few ham-hocks. We’ll be bringing the collards, along with 10 gallons of red beans and rice, to the Red Cross relief center across town. We’re supplementing efforts. And I have to say that today is the first day I feel centered. I’m cooking with some of my best friends, Rashmi and Andy, we’re drinking a few beers, drinking a little whisky, and this is the first time I feel like I’m exactly where I should be. Their house is on the edge of the Nothing—which is what their neighbor calls it. Seriously—from their street on, it’s all gone. I realize that’s something I can’t fathom until I see it. When I leave—this neighborhood/any affected neighborhood—it leaves me. When I’m not there/ here, it’s not there/here—and that’s a function of the destruction I think. It’s so much that it doesn’t stick with me. I have to look right at it, picture what was there before and after, for it to mean anything. At least
Tuscaloosa Runs This that’s how it is for me. I feel a little weird about that, and that’s why, warming my legs against the fire of the Banjo as if it were a nice campfire, I feel centered. I’m right there with the badness, and I’m cooking collard greens, and it’s all there, and I’m doing something that I love—cooking for people. Later we’re at the Red Cross station. We’re dropping the food off and it smells good and I feel okay. This is what I can do—cook—well. It’s one of the things I have to offer. There, dropping off the food, smelling collard greens, the aroma of hamhocks, greens that Rashmi and Andy bought at the farmer’s market that morning—yes, I think. And that’s what I think about the next day, too. 152
It’s today and it’s a little warmer—75° I think, a beautiful day. We’re cooking for the Red Cross relief effort again. We’re cooking braised kale, cornbread that Andy upped with bacon and bacon grease, and now Rashmi has gone to get some hot sauce from a farmer friend in X, maybe 30 miles away. The kale—I spent the morning picking it with two of my other terrific friends, Jean and Carol. It took us an hour and we cleared a whole bed at Snow’s Bend (farmed/ owned by Margaret Ann Toohey and David Snow, two more greats). Jean showed me how to grab the kale as a bunch and cut it with a serrated knife, which leaves the young shoots to grow and become another bunch. We pruned, in other words, because in a few weeks, maybe a month, it will be ready to harvest again for the Snow’s Bend CSA. We harvested an unbelievable amount of kale, maybe 50-60 lbs. Maybe more. I took the kale back to Tuscaloosa, Rashmi and Andy picked me up, and we took it to L’s, small catering business in Northport.
While at L’s, I again feel good. When Rashmi leaves for the hot sauce—30 miles away and worth it—I think about how important it is to us—Rashmi, Andy, Jean, Carol, Margaret Ann, David, Emily, Sam (Emily and Sam were there at J+C’s to clean/blanche the kale; they also grow food at J+C’s, and are altogether stellar people)—almost all of my closest friends— how important food is to us. We love to eat. But we also think deeply about where our food comes from, about responsibility, sustainability. And especially about community. We all work along a theory that food centers community. We get together to eat, we cook together, we drink together. We talk about what tomato starts are working, what pepper varieties we’re considering. Shop talk is food talk—growing, cooking, eating. Because of that, a few of us started a nonprofit—Druid City Garden Project—dedicated to creating green spaces/garden spaces in underserved communities. We started the nonprofit after I’d live here for a few years and we finally decided we wanted to change Tuscaloosa’s landscape. This is a town constantly threatened by Wal-Mart, by Archer Daniels, by Monsanto—it’s a town like a lot of towns in the US. It’s a town with bullies. DCGP is our response. Our first garden is/was at University Place Elementary and Middle School, which was destroyed by the Tornado. Our garden survived—though infected with insulation—and so it will have to be rebuilt. While I’m cooking kale that I harvested that morning, looking forward to feeding some folks this wonderful wonderful food, that means so much to me, I think about the DCGP garden, that it’s gone, that it will
Tuscaloosa Runs This need to be rebuilt, that donations have been coming in, and that too bolsters me. One of the mottos that gets passed around right now is Tuscaloosa Rebuilds This—which is what this, the cooking, rebuilding the garden—what’s it’s all about. This is a good thing.
But then it’s later. We’re serving folks at the Red Cross. People like the greens and I’m proud of that and it makes me feel good. There’s a guy from Atlanta playing guitar in the corner and he’s got a few of the crowd going. It’s good. But then I watch someone throw most of their food away. I ask him if the meal was okay—which is a stupid question because he obviously didn’t like it—and he shakes his head and walks away. And then I feel bad. I realize that food is particular—that we have our particular tastes. But that wasn’t it. Along with the greens we made there was cheap Sysco fried chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, shitty dehydrated potatoes gratin and mashed potatoes, canned green beans, etc. I don’t fault the people around me for serving food I wouldn’t serve if I could help it. All this food is coming from the heart, from kind hearts, from good people. But I know it’s not what I’d cook for people if I could cook for these people. I’d want to give them what means so much to me. It would be the kale I cut this morning; it would be pork from my farmerfriends Margaret Ann and David. It would be spinach and tomatoes and blueberries from Jean and Carol. It wouldn’t be Sysco. It wouldn’t be Archer Daniels. It wouldn’t be Wal-Mart. Those are the companies that take and take. That operate under ethically dubious and wholly irresponsible environmental practices. They destroy community, and fuel oppression and class
divisions. Serving that food—when I want so much for these people to feel okay, to have a better day, to be able to stand up after having lost everything, after complete devastation, to be able to stand and feel okay and be able to take the first step forward—serving this food just doesn’t work for me. Food can center us, heal and nourish us—but not this food. Not a pre-fried/ flash-frozen/reheated piece of industrial ag chicken. Not mushy canned green beans. I feel like I’m spitting on people when I serve this food. A woman asks me if we have sweet tea and I spend the next twenty minutes looking for it—and don’t find it. And somehow that ruins me a little bit. And then we’re on our way home. It’s a part of town I haven’t seen yet—15th and McFarland. But it’s not 15th and McFarland any more. I don’t recognize this place. It’s really blasted. Bombed. It’s all rubble. You can’t know it unless you’re looking at it though, and by the time I’m looking at it—really looking at it— we’re already back to the jist of the tornado—the place that’s not complete rubble; and then when I’m seeing that, we’re back to where it was—er, which is to say, we’re out of it altogether. How weird is that? That a mile or so from the bombed out rubble the trees are standing, the houses are standing, the water is running—everything is as it always was. And my heart is breaking. I see it/saw it and my heart is breaking/ broken. When I get home and I have a beer and a whisky it’s a little further away again. Is it really that easy to leave? (Me, who can leave it. Literally.)
Tuscaloosa Runs This
I think about where Tuscaloosa will be in a year or two or three. I think about the possibilities. It will be so easy for this place to only be what it was. As much as I love Tuscaloosa, as many people as I’ve found here to love, as much as it’s shaped me more than maybe any other place has shaped me, I’ve hated it too. There is so much ugliness. There are destitute neighborhoods, a landscape dominated by decaying strip malls, segregation, extreme poverty, sprawl. It will be so easy for Tuscaloosa to give in again. More Midtown Malls. More poorly built student housing. More segregation. More Targets and Wal-Marts and all the other shit that makes it/made it—part of it anyway—shit. I think about that and my heart breaks again and again. I wish it weren’t so. I love you Tuscaloosa. Please. It doesn’t have to be like that. Tuscaloosa Rebuilds This. Alabama Rebuilds This. Food is the thing that centers me. It’s how I found a way into Tuscaloosa. It’s how I came to know the place that sometimes I love and sometimes I hate. It’s how I’ve come to know the best people I’ve ever known. My wife, Emily and I were newlyweds when we came here, and cooking and eating with friends, with each other, growing food—all that has shaped our first years together, created us in a way that is meaningful, that makes my heart feel good. And cooking today, I realize, is my way through this, this Nothing. Through it I see the best of Tuscaloosa. Food Rebuilds This, I think. Soul Food Rebuilds This.
Standing Water Nik De Dominic There was standing water in the tub. We’d dumped gallons upon gallons of store bought Drain-O into the thing, which would momentarily fix it for whomever showered next, but the person that hopped in after that would be greeted with dirty, soapy water to his ankles. It was a new apartment, new to us at least, so my roommate and I had no idea what the response time would be from the landlord, a man called Mike Upton. I gave Mike a call and he told me he’d “look into it.” Putting my head down and rolling my eyes, I knew we were fucked. I had had several landlords in the past tell me they were going to “look into” things and those situations usually ended me with calling the Los Angeles renters’ rights board because the roaches had started to nod at me, sometimes calling me by my Christian name when I turned on the lights. I didn’t even know if Alabama had a renters’ rights board. Within fifteen minutes of the call there was a knock on the door: Mike Upton in scrubs – he was an orthodontist – with a big grin on his face and industrial drain cleaner cradled in his arms like a newborn. Mike Upton was the kind of man you’d want the agency to send over to big brother you a couple hours a week if you’re Dad had taken off. He was a hulking man with a permanent grin that embodied masculine wherewithal; he oozed it in his scrubs, on his knees, dumping caustic chemicals into our drain. He drove a $45,000 pick up truck and probably knew every river that would yield good catfish in Alabama. Mind
Tuscaloosa Runs This you, he wasn’t the type of guy that you wanted your mom to date or spend too much time around the house: though guys like Mike Upton are great for an hour or so, these are the same men that ground you when you lose the dribble in a three man weave drill or won’t talk to you on the ride home when the sun caught your eyes, trying to catch that pop fly. Then the dude disappears for two weeks on business so the dissatisfaction can sit in your stomach. Sometimes a man is too much of a man for the good of the boy.
After fashioning a funnel for the drain out of a Mountain Dew can, newspaper, and duck tape for the drain solution, it was becoming clear to Mike that he needed to take more serious actions. I was in the kitchen making a peanut butter crepe – alas, though, I had ran out of Grand Marnier -- when Mike returned with a snake, a wound up black hose, for drain deployment. Where it came from was anybody’s guess. When I was a kid, we had this same problem – standing water in the tub. The plumbing in my father’s house was so corroded, so miserably bad, that we had to declare the second bathroom a crime scene and keep those with sensitive proclivities out of it altogether. There was a yellow, industrial bucket that sat next to the tub in my father’s bathroom, and if you didn’t bail the water out after you showered into the toilet, the water would sit for days and, also, raise water in the crime scene tub across the hall -- think clogged kitchen sinks -- bringing up black, brackish stuff of soapy water, pipe sludge, and, somehow, eucalyptus leaves in various states of decomposition. The property was covered in them and the leaves would find their ways into your jean pockets and backpack. I learned
to never dig around for a pen in school, because I may find a wood beetle in my bag. Maybe there was an open window in that bathroom, maybe the house itself had started to regurgitate the leaves – it’s hard to tell now. Also, if the water wasn’t bailed immediately, it would start to come down through the ceiling in the downstairs half bathroom where a second yellow industrial bucket was positioned to catch the run-off. In the mornings, still half-asleep on our black leather couch, I could hear the sloshing and heaving of water upstairs by my father, the grunts and the displeasure of labor. When it was my turn to shower, the tub would be clear but the shag red carpet was thick with wet and mildew from yesterday’s, last week’s, last month’s, last year’s bail-out. The splash off had peeled the paint off the years of paint on the walls, exposing at some points the bare sheet rock beneath and staining the whole wall yellow, brown, and black. My father’s bathroom looked like the inside of a split geode formed of rot and dilapidation. But, sometimes, my father, too, got lazy and I’d be greeted by a couple inches of standing water in the tub. Cold up to my ankles, blazing hot blasting down from me the showerhead, the water was the house, two competing things of pleasure and pain. That dank smell of mildew humanized the superhero, made a man out of the myth of my father who had arms – seriously- the size of tree trunks and could drink 5 fifths of Jack Daniel’s by noon because of a toothache. A man who’d never camped when he was a kid, but when he took me on a Boy Scout retreat had our tent up in half the time of the other fathers, already smoking a cigar lit off his Coleman lantern. He taught the Scout Master the knots at night, so Tom could teach them to us the next day.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Years later, after too much literature training, I can say that that 5 bedroom ranch house nestled in the California hillside became a metaphor for my father, but at 11 I didn’t know this. The structure of this essay also implies a contradistinction between my father and Upton. Though, Gentle Reader, do not get ahead of me. My father was Upton; a man my brothers hated because of his audible and violent frustration at their inability to master the stick shift in his Italian sports car, but a man who drove an Italian sports car nonetheless, and a man whom I loved because sickness had humbled him and forced him to sell that same car, albeit for a Mustang.
In fifth grade, I had been caught writing nasty birthday cards to my classmates. Andre, the kid with the thyroid problem and son of a Brazilian diplomat, and I had developed a series of what we thought complicated symbols so that we could call the Korean girl a cunt- I had brothers ten years my senior thus my learned vocabulary-- because she’d called Andre fat and me creepy at lunchtime in front of the handball courts. Admittedly, I was creepy in fifth grade, wearing all black and refusing to pick up my feet when I walked, shuffling across the schoolyard blacktop, lard rolling over the waist of my khakis, playfully sized as “husky.” And, Andre, well, he was orca-fat, size forty Dickies fat. After months of these birthday notes, we were finally found out after Ms. Bourguignon got curious – apparently, after asked what we were writing, we simply replied, “Happy Birthday.” Ms. Beef, we thought ourselves quite clever, had noticed the messages varied in length and symbol content. Poor, poor Alex Castillo, the Mexican kid with Pro-Wings
from Payless Shoes and the holey green jeans, before they were au courant of course, that he wore everyday. Children are mean – Andre and I were meaner. Ah, and I forgot Peter Chou. Peter was another fat kid with a mono-brow who Andre palled around with sometimes. He was the weak link in the chain, ultimately giving up the Rosetta Stone to Ms. Beef when cornered in the hallway. Trust me, he was never allowed over for swimming and choccodiles after that. When dragged into the principal’s office to call home, my mother – like she often was – was unreachable. When asked about my father, I told them that he was in the hospital. Sympathy and empathy washed over Ms. Wilson’s face, a proud black disciplinarian with chiseled West-Indian features who instilled fear in the toughest of six graders. Questions, too, tinged with sadness for a child who couldn’t understand what was going on rapidly followed: How long has he been in? I don’t know, a couple months. What’s wrong? Something like Cancer, but different (it was lupus), and they had to cut him open from chin to groin (my father’s verbiage) to find nothing. I was sat down, given crate paper and crayons and told to draw pine trees for the rest of the day. Contrary to Ms. Wilson, I did understand the power of my father’s sickness, the carte blanche it lent me. I had seen enough TV to know that dying parents made a child’s misbehavior allowable, understandable, and even welcomed. I relished in it, and my father’s sickness was never real to me. I was too young to understand the consequences of a dead man, but just old enough to understand the perks of being a dying man’s son.
Tuscaloosa Runs This When he got home from the hospital and convalesced in the house with the aid of his step mother, I was there every day. My brothers, on the other hand, took off to the movies or my mom’s or a girlfriend’s house or cruised Ventura Blvd. in their tricked out Volkswagens for the four years of his sickness. From this, our relationship grew out of his sense of the loyalty I had for him, and the already tense relationship he had with the other boys started to fracture further – it is tenuous now, even fifteen years later.
Mike Upton was on the phone with his wife, intermittently grunting while forcing the snake deeper into the clogged pipes, the relationship sounded strained, and in the living room, the crepe sans Marnier was a little lackluster. Imagine him, now, collapsing in the bathtub, the phone laying unattended at his side, his wife’s voice echoing off the porcelain tub, hello. Mike crawls into his a Barcalounger in the solarium to sit and wither in the sun for the next four years. To die. It is understandable why my brothers ran. Even more, it is understandable that a boy would cling to the side of that chair, petting his father’s head, like a wounded, sick lark. My father, until he got sick, worked all the time, setting type and putting together covers for a health magazine. Late night press OKs coupled with the magazine’s 9 to 5 kept him out of the house at all hours. He was, now, a new toy, a friend and playmate. I wonder if Mike’s wife would leave him; how old his children are; if they’d take the boat out to the lake without him or if they’d prop him up on the bow to let the spray mist his face, wiping that and the collecting drool from his lip; who would become bitter?
It was during my father’s convalescence that the house began to crumble around us, and I went to live with my father all the time. It had been a dual custody split weeks to weekends between my mother and father, respectively, until then. I’d like to say I went to live with my father because he was dying, but I would be lying. My father’s house was a den of play, a bachelor’s wet dream. When he knew that he was going to die the lifetime he’d spent of building good credit was blown in a weekend mall trip – laser disc player, surround sound with Bang & Olufsen components, entertainment center, cherry oak end tables, leather couch and matching recliner, hardwood floors, Persian rugs, ad infinitum. The living room was a standing testament to male decadence, opposed to my mother’s house which was full of glass things that you could not touch and furniture you could not set glasses on. My father would sit with me on those rugs as I ate peanut butter waffles and drank chocolate milk while he chain-smoked cheap cigars out of a twenty dollar box of fifty. I’ve got a thing for peanut butter. I also, at twelve, had an experimental interest in smoking dried up banana peels and eucalyptus leaves, which my mother found the paraphernalia for in my desk drawer. The discovery forced her to decree, my house means my rules, to which, understandably, I answered, I’ll go live at Dad’s. The sickness financially broke my father and even when his health did fully recover he never really worked again; creditors called on the half hour mark for as long as he kept that phone number. The house, too, never recovered. The perfectly manicured acre of land around the house became unkempt, a playground
Tuscaloosa Runs This
for rattle snakes and possums. The stable was absent of horses for now ten years and the corrugated roof had collapsed in the middle, like a funnel, forcing a huge puddle of stagnant water. The redwood above-ground pool out back had long since been tended for and someone, once, came to remove it from the property. However, the project stalled out, so all that remained was the fiberglass carcass and a couple planks of wood siding clinging to the side of the thing or elsewhere, haphazardly piled around the yard, becoming black widow hatches. The pool, itself, had filled with rain water and eucalyptus about four feet high, the constant whir of gestating mosquitoes always to be heard whenever you were in a ten feet proximity - a macro version of the upstairs bathroom. A storm had forced the bough of a tree into my brother’s bedroom through the roof “like a missile,” my father said, spearing the bed like a rabbit on a spit. In the vacuum now that that house exists for me, I can still see the California sky blue sky on a clear day through the roof. Who knows where my brother was that night. The living room, though, never changed through it all, looking like something from a Playboy layout on modern décor for the modern man. It was always shining and wooden and black. Even when my father was at his worse, he would mop, wipe down tables, and shine the furniture leather with vegetable oil. The rugs were always vacuumed and the fireplace always stoked with wood from the pool he’d collect and chop himself. We were using parts of the house for firewood.
Now, I know, the pristine nature of that living room served two purposes. When my mother would drop me off after she’d made some half-hearted attempt to reconnect with me, she’d always comment on how great the house looked. The living room was at its simplest an outward appearance and if that was ok, my father was ok. No one ever got upstairs or into the half bathroom to notice the wood rot and mildew. No one was sick. No one was dying. Second, my father never spent anytime in that living room, unless it was to mess around with me. Mostly, he was upstairs in the solarium sitting in a hideous thing of a chair, the sun pouring through the standing dust and cigar smoke creating ephemeral whirls around his stoic figure. I was the one who spent all my time there, watching pay-per view boxing matches, playing Nintendo, staying up late to catch a glimpse of titty on Cinemax, and always, always sleeping on that leather couch. Shit, I couldn’t sleep upstairs. The trees were gunning for us. The room was built for me, so he could die, so the house could rot, and I wouldn’t notice. Standing water in the tub upstairs, when he was too sick to bail, or too tired, let me know that everything wasn’t all right. That sometimes your feet are cold when your body is hot. Sometimes you use the house for firewood. I checked on Mike in our bathroom. He was cupping his hand over the drain, forcing suction, and running hot water down it. He looked up and smiled at me, letting me know that things were “all clear.” He chuckled to himself, and wiped his hands down the front of his scrubs as he stood. He said something about getting home to his wife, kids, that it was late
Tuscaloosa Runs This in the day, almost nine, and itâ€™s so hard to come by time nowadays with his practice and the property management. I nodded and he left. I sat with my roommate on the couch, empty plate in lap, and he talked about how great Mike was, how nice it was for him to come over so promptly. I nodded again, wishing that Mike had taken a little more time to look into it.
Hypermnesia Elizabeth Wade I saw you this morning at Walgreens, the one that used to be a Long John Silver’s back when we still had the Bear to remind us to call our mamas, back when Bo would come to town and we would hear leather hit aluminum. The men sitting on top of the Miller beer truck parked behind center field would scatter from their lawn chairs just before the ball reached them, and we would know that even though Bo wore the wrong color uniform, he deserved our applause. We would know that we had seen something, that years later we would say I was there. You were there at Walgreens, the one near the place where Reagan once ate a hamburger that he bought with a twenty he bummed from one of his secret service agents. But they’ve torn that restaurant down now, and its owner complained to the press that we are a people who do not love our relics enough to preserve them. We did not preserve any of the pay phones that used to be here, so I can cry out, but I cannot call you. I am comfortable with distance. I am uncomfortable with technology, with Twitter telling me that a boy I once loved ate a frittata for breakfast this morning. This morning at Walgreens, the headline on the magazine in the rack before us said something about sampling. I am not at all hip, but I know enough to know that this is a new way of saying that stealing words from someone you admire isn’t considered stealing anymore, that it’s reinvention, revision, reverence. If I could I would steal the words I need to talk to you about collaboration and wistfulness. And if I could find them, I would steal the words to tell you how I once arranged to meet the
Tuscaloosa Runs This
boy I loved at a phone booth in a mountain town, and I would tell you how that boy once braved a drugstore like ours and bought a card that said love, how I read but did not believe, and how that boy is no longer a boy, how today he ate a frittata but yesterday he ate oatmeal, and how maybe if the light was gracious and you are myopic then perhaps you thought I was looking for Cosmo, but really I was wondering if I need to start thinking about collagen creams, because I am no longer young, and I am ready to believe. When I was young I stole an Andes mint from a different drugstore, one near the hospital in which my fatherâ€™s heart tried to stop beating. I stole it, and I felt bad about it, and I have never stolen again. The words I need are somewhere, but that place is not here, so this is just to say that I saw you at Walgreens. This is to say I was there. This piece is printed in advance of its publication in Shadowbox Magazine (shadowboxmagazine.org), with the gracious permission of that journalâ€™s editors.
1430 Queen City Avenue Jessy Scivley Body heat kept me warm From the splintered wood floors In a house on shifted foundations. Cracks under doors letting Drafts sweep by, Chilling like a someone stepping Over your grave. Thick layers of lead paint Chipping off the doors with Every slam, breathing In the soot thatâ€™s blown in Off the nearby street. Stretching broomsticks to cobwebs In corners of 12 foot ceilings. Red walls, blue walls, green walls, Yellow walls, full of holes from Photos hung with each new Tenants. The whole pink bathroom On a slant, and notes between roomates On chalkboard doors, Please have sex in the spare shower.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Until We Meet Again, Here’s A Roll Tide From Me Danie Vollenweider oh, Tuscaloosa heart of my heart, still sacred our home, you and me. where, always I’ve been even miles, miles away… there are azaleas. my hours spent well in Morgan Hall, writing in verse, never alone. 170
yellow bricks fading, teal benches and terrible air conditioning what more is needed for inspiration, lyric soft like magnolias?
I am writing you not to say goodbye, darling but to give you life. when the streetlights dim I will guide you with my voice to Bryant-Denny
where we will hold hands and walk onto the field to feel like champions we will leave, alive lifted on spirit, and go following railroads. all along fifteenth you squeeze me tighter, until we reach the corner. pink flower crosses tiny angels, lit candles someone sleeps alone as strong voices sing “Dixie-land where I was born, I’ll live and die, in Dixie.”
Tuscaloosa, you and me and all this is just a braver promise one we all can keep. state, students, and family joined anew in love. our hearts, together say, Tuscaloosa is sweet home always, forever
Tuscaloosa Runs This dear, some sunny day Iâ€™ll come back with my own songs oh, Tuscaloosa it will be almost as if we never parted. roll tide, love. amen.
No Way Except Through. Farren Stanley I thought I’d start with a bruise count: 26. Also, 3 sunburns, 4 blisters, dozens of scratches, a seriously scraped knee, a spider bite and burstitis. It took a few days after the storm for us all to comprehend the damage. Without power, water, cable, or cell reception we were all living in a closed world. To speak with a friend I had to walk over to her house. But of course we all wound up together, because we live and die by each other here. It’s a trait not only of our wily band, mostly MFA students, but of the people who live here. Tuscaloosa is all the bad things you’ve heard—crushing poverty and buffoon politicians and gas station wine and soul-saturating heat and ruthless insects—but it also breeds a proud, stubborn, graceful kind of person. (Will this be alright, a journal-style account? Reportage? [There is no way to get at this except through the I.]
I’ll just have to do.)
We all wound up together and we could not really understand what was happening and we had no access to information and nothing to do so we walked, restlessly, all of us, down to the charnel ground that used to be a city we slept and studied and fucked and drank and wept and paced and wrote and played in. We joined the rest of our city’s proud graceful residents in a silent march through the twisted piles of rubble,
Tuscaloosa Runs This past the two-story stacks of sticks and shingles and insulation that used to be houses, by a woman whose storage pod had been carried off by the tornado and dropped in the middle of what used to be the Smoothie King parking lot—though it took us several minutes to determine this, because without any buildings around you it is hard to know where you are—where it burst. She was sorting through its contents, remnants of the life of her recently-deceased husband and their life together that she had tagged for donation and resale. We kept walking. We saw houses and cars crushed by trees. We bore silent, horrible witness. even begun to understand.] 174
[We had not
The devastation we could see was roped off by yellow caution tape and protected by three shell-shocked cops who stood, crying, at intersections. There were gas leaks all over the city and the breeze carried the smell along, that sulfuric whiff we’ve been long-trained to fear, to flee. ( What is making this so difficult? Am I trying to contain too much?) [There is no way past this except through it. Keep going.] We still had not yet begun to understand. The next morning power came back to most of us, but we hardly noticed. The cell networks were still all jammed up but we all wound up together, at 7am, without tools or gloves or sunscreen or hats or appropriate footwear or water or even much of a plan, really. We went back to the neighborhood and we went to work. We followed the high whine of a chainsaw under the blue sky to a need and we hacked away at it for hours, in grim and sweaty silence. We
drug it to the curb and stacked it there. Sometimes we cried or smoked, or tried our cell phones again. No luck. The second day of this, other kinds of help arrived. People in trucks or on foot, with radio flyer wagons or on four-wheelers with flatbeds attached to the back, handing out water, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, individually-packaged snacks, sunscreen. Chapstick, once. All day long, as we hacked and dragged and wept among strangers, our neighbors rode by and kept us safe and hydrated and fed. The third day, I struck out alone and found a wild trio of Marines on leave who’d driven up from Florida. We cut through and gained access to an entire block of houses in varying states of inhabitability. (How do I say this. The old man in the overalls with the cane who emerged from his house once we finally exposed it, shaking and crying because we were angels AND because we’d killed his tree.) The third day was the day the helicopters and the National Guard arrived. They are still here, circling overhead, as are the soldiers, circling in our streets. The fourth day, I found a pile of sticks that used to be a house and I went to work, carrying every piece of that disintegrated house up to the curb for the backhoes to scoop up and laying every salvageable artifact of a family’s life on a child’s mattress, on the other side of the curb. I was lakefront. There was an upended red canoe in the very center of the lake, and the ducks, who’d returned the morning after the storm, looked disinterestedly on. (How do I say this, the thing about how one of the first things I noticed in Tuscaloosa was the ruthless efficiency with which the fire ants reassembled their horrific red dirt-colonies after a rainfall, in a matter of hours. How do I talk about how fascinating and
Tuscaloosa Runs This repulsive I found their work without making them into a bad allegory of human industry and/or the rape of nature and/ or the indomitability of the human spirit, none of which are exactly true or exactly false?) [You just say it.]
The pile of rubble yielded human artifacts that will haunt me [don’t start, HAUNT is the right word so use it] for as far into the future as I can see or imagine. Christmas cards, cursive homework, legos, Valentines, the Richard Scarry-illustrated Little Golden Books over which I obsessed in my childhood. A tiny pink sundress. A kid used to live here. A little one. (I had not even begun to understand.) My ears were ringing and I began to shiver. An older woman called to me a moment later. “Don’t get too hot! You look like you’re going to faint. Go SIT DOWN and DRINK WATER.” I sat on the mattress, near a white prom dress, rescued from the rubble in remarkably pristine shape and hung gingerly from a tree, and watched it flutter in the wind for awhile. Alternated water and Gatorade under the merciless 3pm sun. Remembered the sundress and observed a lurch in my stomach. I was, I decided, done for the day. It was on the fourth day that I also discovered the Magnolia tree on my walk home, the only tree standing in the entire neighborhood. Wide-hipped and low hanging, she shaded half her yard. She was in full bloom, the white flowers delicate and sweetsmelling and big and round as dinner plates. I lay beneath the Magnolia tree, napping, while my friends got tetanus shots in the basement of a nearby church. (I am excited to tell you about the Magnolia tree because it
gives me the opportunity to tell you about how I had just fallen in love with Tuscaloosa, which is through its profusion—[no, don’t explain it. Just say it.] ) It’s my second year in Tuscaloosa Alabama. I do not know why I didn’t notice springtime last year, because it is a true spectacle, in the most specular sense of the word. Fields of crimson clover hug the highways and ripple in the wind and the cherry trees all over campus rain blooms down on everyone all day long and the Magnolias start to sigh open and every morning my street smells like fried eggs and honeysuckle and the wisteria explodes out of chain link fences and old trees and down trellises and the moon is huge and white and utterly beatific—I have not felt so strongly attracted to nature since I left the big skies and red mesas in the Southwest years and years ago. It is springtime and I am in love with Tuscaloosa. I blushed when I told people, over cocktails, as the setting sun burned the sky pink and a warm breeze played in my skirt. My lover’s body on mine while I, giggling and sheepish, recounted how we barely noticed each other when we met. Tuscaloosa and I finally found each other and I was in a bright, hazy dream world with my new lover when what our radio stations have branded “The Tornados of 2011” struck and tore up so many of the things I’d fallen so deeply in love with and spat them out in Georgia. More should be said about the extent of the destruction, the body count that’s still ticking upwards, the stories we have heard about the tornado taking children up into it. But those stories are only just beginning to trickle in. Every day the picture of our ravaged state fills in a little more. I haven’t the strength
Tuscaloosa Runs This or the authority to understand these stories [and besides, you are only just beginning to understand.]
There is no way to get through this except by saying it, and there is no way to say it except through the I—my most reluctant mode of transport. And yet it is the perfect mode in which to say what must be said, which is that by day four, I had fallen in love with Tuscaloosa all over again. Every middle aged man with a chainsaw, every wild marine, every vacanteyed graduate student clearing his buddy’s yard, every college sophomore carrying a cooler of sandwiches, every family passing me ice cold water and shouting JESUS LOVES YOU from the back of their pick up truck as they drove on, every single one of our wily band of writers who went out together and reapplied sunscreen and carried unbroken dishes and furniture and paintings out of decimated houses embodied a kind of grace and fortitude and strength and—it’s true, pride and stubbornness—that some people might call God’s Love. From a landscape of complete devastation, the body of the place I had just fallen in love with, emerged the verve and spirit of the place I had just fallen in love with. I choose carefully who I love because I love so hard, and for life. I chose Tuscaloosa and I chose so well.
from Tuscaloosa Notebooks MC Hyland Heat like a needle driving straight for the vein. “The rain hit me on purpose.” Paper experiments, smeared beauty. In the cemetery by the stadium, Darling we miss thee. Exile using a second language. Riven by the river. Nights weighing us down on our bicycles; battered fields the car brings you through. The world just keeps on. Cargo/ of last year, story you told. The beloved as hummingbird. Tree branch broken off near the trunk but entangled; dangling six feet up. Kitchen full of sun. It’s my party. Lightning all around the house/ curtains blowing in. Cased in, a tight joint. Hard to think of south from here. Birds nested on the air conditioner chip chipping at the morning. In an antique store in Northport, the broke-down traditions. Fever-dreams of lavender and kerosene. Always so many cars, so many books. Making light/ of a room or a room of light. Sparrow-bones. Streetlights & window-lights reflected in the flooded lawn.
Tuscaloosa Runs This Goodbye Tuscaloosa. Goodbye to the land of wedding cakes shaped like Bryant-Denny Stadium. Goodbye to summer sweats that drench the sundress to my legs. Goodbye to Bear Bryant, cantankerous ghost. Roll Tide is my aloha. Let me be present for the rapture, when Bryant-Denny will ascend to heaven and the Auburn fans will be judged, and found wanting. If there are no Crimsonettes in heaven, I don’t want to go. Goodbye to Southern mothers’ terrible wishes for their wayward sons. Goodbye to Jesus wisecracking from every church sign. God does answer knee-mail. Have mercy. Goodbye Southern gentlemen racing me to my car door. Goodbye summers of kissing and fighting outside the Downtown Pub. Goodbye evening smell of smoking pork and burning tires. Goodbye goddamned football weekend condos. Goodbye to Zayne, mixtape saint, cockfighter, hound dog of the Southern B-movie. Goodbye Rick Astley, three or four times a crowded night. Even you are one of God’s children. Goodbye Druid City Drinking Club, on the porch all Friday. True faithful that you are, let me kneel for your communion. Goodbye Jacob Erica and Mikey presiding over the young broke artists.
Goodbye to the Festival of African-American Hair, the elementary school Beauty Walk, the cotillion. Goodbye Alabama dinners, fellowship of an ever-growing table. Goodbye Charley Shirley, Preacher Lee, dear dear Lurleen. No longer will I travel your badly paved roads. Goodbye Jack Warner, cowboy of the North River, true patriot with your eagle-topped birthday cake. I would have thought it was a joke if I hadn’t seen the decorative hitch cover. Goodbye Well That’s Cool boys broadcasting from a couch above the barbershop. Goodbye red and white popcorn boxes of the Bama Theatre. The Allgood clan sustains us all. Goodbye yes ma’am, no ma’am, yessir, nosir. Four years you took to sit comfortably on my tongue. Good bye Bent ‘N Dent Can Store, ice machine graveyard, raggedy train tracks leading to the Waysider parking lot. You, too, are my finest Sunday mornings. Goodbye Thursday night Lousy Bowlers League. Bo Hicks is my king and president forever. Goodbye Nick Saban. I fear and adore you. Goodbye Catfish Heaven, Epiphany, and the many other paths to heaven. Pray for us sinners, if it isn’t too late.
All contributors live or have lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Special Thanks to Betsy Seymour & Jeremy Allan Hawkins for their photography All works are property of their respective authors. To help contribute to the recovery effort visit givetuscaloosa.com