Three Poems from Jessica Kidd’s “Bad Jamie”

A Man’s Old-Water Soul
Town Clarence stands out back
burning the carbons of old checkbooks,
watching the ashes tell tales about how he’s spent his life:
A boat that his friend hated
and now Town Clarence hates too.
His daughter’s hair-do, his wife’s hair-do,
his wife’s hair-do, his wife’s hair-do,
bail for Bad Jamie, cow feed, antibiotic syringes,
tires for the truck, tires for the four-wheeler.

Where are the checks Town Clarence has cashed?
Saving Bad Jamie’s ass, whooping daughter’s mean ass
boyfriend, visiting Granny in the nursing home,
swallowing that stink in the nursing home,
mowing such-and-such’s yard, church that Sunday,
that Sunday, that one too.

Sometimes Town Clarence is Pasture Clarence.
Naked to the waist, sitting in the rocky creek,
letting the water run over and over his gut
until he feels the water snails creeping up on his fingernails.
 
To Leave Would Be to Have No Direction
Girl Jamie knows one place in the creek
where the water rises to mid-thigh in summer.

She feels minnows nibble the hair above her knees
where she never shaves.

She lets her fingers feel the drag and twirl of the water
wanting to go down farther from the top of the low mountain,

farther from the cow pastures studded with schist outcrops,
farther from the run-down chicken houses

where her daddy sleeps when no one else will have his bones.
When she thinks of Bad Jamie, her pupils turn to slits

and a low growl folds over on itself in her belly.
She sends her blessings with the rushing water to an imaginary ocean

and climbs out to dry herself on a sunny rock.
When she leaves for home, the damp shadow on the rock

is much larger than a girl, is wild and leaves a musk
that scares away rabbits and jays.
Mitosis
Maybe he was on his way to Bible study
or beers with friends or a high school football game
for old time’s sake, but none of it mattered
when he saw the flash of flesh

that was his brother’s face
falling fast toward the ground
and the neighbor’s boot rising and arcing
to meet his brother’s belly over and over again.

Then Clarence’s truck was in the neighbor’s yard
and the neighbor’s back tooth that listed a bit
to the side was smiling out of the cheek
and leaving a red grin on Clarence’s knuckle.

Clarence bowed his back and bellowed at his neighbor
to stay on the ground. The neighbor’s young wife screamed
and Clarence could smell on her
the musk of pregnancy. His brother’s doing.

His brother had already clawed his way
into the cab of Clarence’s truck.
Bad Jamie’s dilated pupils peered
like he was watching TV.

What had once been one Clarence
was now two men – Town Clarence
who would have kept on driving toward town
and Pasture Clarence whose instincts dictated

that if Bad Jamie was hurt it would only be him
that did the hurting. Everyone else go to hell.
And it might as well be him that sent them there.
Pasture Clarence snorted like a brahma bull

and started up his truck. In his side vision,
he saw the neighbor’s pain pills stuck in Jamie’s pocket.
In his rear mirror, he saw husband and wife
hollering down their marriage.

It was a boy she was carrying; he smelled it.
Town Clarence prayed to God
like they did in church. Pasture Clarence prayed
like animals pray before they eat each other up.

Writer Jessica Fordham Kidd is a lifelong Alabamian. These poems are part of a series involving “Bad Jamie” – a pill addict in southern Appalachia—and intersections of the fantastic, family folklore, and environment. She is the associate director of first-year writing at the University of Alabama, and her poems have appeared in Drunken Boat, Storyscape, Tinderbox, and The Paris Review among others.

Photographer Madeline Leshner is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. She was recently awarded “Best Director” by the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival for her short film, Factory 91. Her work has also been selected by the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival, the New Hope Film Festival, the Philip K. Dick International Film Festival, and others. Check out her work here.

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