Essy Stone

It’s always the same party & everyone is nice to you


–cans of Miller Hi-Life, the champagne of beer, joints rolled
from seedy garden schwag that taste like aquarium water. Brave.
I think hardship makes you brave, I say at a trailer-park rager
where “Sympathy for the Devil” wails from the trunk of a car
got backed up to my porch. Every night here’s a bacchanal
for us who work too many shifts for regular showers.
Always a dog barking. Always a car alarm going off,
a gun up your ass when you sit
between cushions on the couch. I got my daddy’s paranoia
so I fight real hard, in my way, to make sure
no man gets the measure of me. I got a nice room in a single-wide
with my boyfriend & his mama & her 13 cats, some of which
I ain’t never seen but for a stray paw or tail flicking
beneath the bathroom door. The neighbors know my folks
but go to different churches so they mind their business & nobody
makes me go to school. Instead they hang in the yard with me,
shotgunning beers that dribble down our chins
to form dark grey dots on gravel, dark grey dirt.
I ask too many questions about prison. Ellis Howard’s deadbeat dad
calls me fairy princess, grinds stubble into my shoulders,
& I’m like Lordy mister & don’t the wings gimme trouble!
because if I ain’t shameless, he’ll think I’m too young for this.
but what I should be saying is yeah, I’m chock full of dust—
grit spit & horseshit, like my daddy would claim. I should be saying
well not hardship exactly, but what you resolve to do without
& not bravery so much as perfecting your game face.
The neighbors say how’s your kinfolk these days?
ain’t seen them around & I’m like oh they’re fine thanks I dunno let’s talk
about something else. The trip is that the tv shrinks never get it right,
except for the tendency towards violent sex even when
there’s too many cats watching you do it. It’s easy
to make folks love you. I’m clutch in a drinking game.
Steely as fuck. But I want someone here to test the metal of me,
watch me bend under the hard hiss of sinner
in my deadbeat daddy’s teeth, how the spittle flecks from the lips.
A fairy tale: when Lucifer disguised himself as the Serpent, I bet
he couldn’t resist dropping hints & almost blowing
the whole charade to bits. I bet he leaned hard on that sssss sound,
made too many knots of himself,
homesick for his ugly old skin.

Essy Stone is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She received an MFA from the University of Miami, but spent most of her life as a waitress in East Tennessee. Her poetry has been published in Prairie Schooner.