Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Sound of Sugar....Teri Youmans Grimm

My Mother Tells Me I Was Conceived In Fire Before I Was Condemned By It

I was admiring the trimmings in O.L. Keenes,
the lace, the ostrich feathers in pale colors. Was it
the steam whistle I noticed first, grey clouds
rolling up from the ground? I don’t remember.
The city was imperiled. From the doorway, I saw
flames in the northwest moving at a gallop.
It was terrifying. Bay Street filled with people
heading east, I joined them, passing families laden
with mirrors, dishes, children leading dogs on strings,
carrying bird cages, so many horses and drays loaded
down with trunks, me holding only a pale pink feather,
worrying how I’d pay for it now.

At Monroe Street,
unable to help myself, I turned around to face the blazing
pursuer. Angels of oblivion pummeled toward me
on billowing,black smoke, like an engraving by Dore’—
this nightmare rendered so precisely.
Isn’t it magnificent? I said to a man nearby. His eyes
considered me. They were oddly green, like verdigris
and heavy-lidded.

Sparks landed like confetti, but long I was willing
to stay there and watch this parade of danger so close
he brushed it from my hair and I brushed it from his sleeve,
before he clutched my hand, pulled me with the others
past Hemming Plaza, into the Windsor Hotel crowded
with the displaced, belongings stacked everywhere,
then down a corridor into a room.
Even when the door clicked shut, I thought of him
as protector while wondering who would save me now.

Ostrich feather gripped in my hand, I did all he told me to do.
Why I never let it go. Why I never fought at all, but laid there
long after he left until smoke filled the room clearing my head
and I fled with hundreds of other bodies, empty-handed
out of that hotel, each of us racing in the direction that felt right.

Toward the river I ran. Across it was this house, untouched
and I wondered if William was imagining me dead.
At the dock I turned around one last time,
and this is what I know of Hell:

The Windsor had become a furnace, radiating heat far and wide,
the flame of its burning ascending towards Heaven, groaning
with a thunderous voice in its agony. The steamer pulled
away and a dead moccasin floated by. Another then another
and another and another. What to make of it, I didn’t know.
As though it was a sign that evil had been vanquished.
But it hadn’t been. It burned inside and half the sky was on fire
and what trees remained in the distance looked like skeletons
and everyone on the boat was cast in the strangest yellow light,
like none I’d ever seen, altering features until any one
of the passengers could have been him.

Still riding the billows of smoke like clouds,
the angel of oblivion appeared to me and in my own bed
that night. Awake or dreaming, it was a true vision all the same.
I was with child and this one would live. She smirked at me
and the clock read 11:00 exactly and your father’s face
(your father’s face?) was bathed in that same yellow glow
and it was more than I could bear. I turned from him
and pressed my hand to where it hurt and was horrified grateful.
Looking at you now, I’m horrified grateful.

At church, in a park, on the trolley,
when I see men that resemble my memory of him—
a grey serge suit, drowsy-lidded eyes, a cleft chin,
to this day I want to ask: Were you that stranger?
Were you that stranger? Please, tell me your name.

About the Poet:

Teri Youmans Grimm lives in Jacksonville, FL with her husband and two children. Her first collection, Dirt Eaters, was chosen for the University of Central Florida’s poetry series and was published by the University Press of Florida. Her work has appeared in the Connecticut Review, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, South Dakota Review, and Homegrown in Florida: An Anthology of Florida Childhoods, among other publications. She teaches in the University of Nebraska’s low-residency MFA program.

About the Sound of Sugar:

We’ve loved reading the work that we’ve published (clearly), so now we want an opportunity to better hear our contributors. We will feature an audio recording of a poem from one of our seven issues, read by the poet and updated every couple of weeks. This an open invitation to all contributors from any of our issues, we were delighted to print your work, now we’re eager to hear it. 

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