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Song for a Kiss

ISSUE:  Fall 2013

Something quick and wet on my neck.
I whipped around, and right behind me
in the lunch line: Mary-Arkansas Greene,
grinning shy mischief
and maybe adoration.
The girl who always stared at me
during penmanship.
Anger went all over me like fire ants.
Imagining a smear of mud on my nape,
as if she had stained me with her blackness,
I reached back and tried to rub it off with my collar.
I felt like blessing her out
but didn’t speak a sound.
Her grin was gone.
I rubbed my neck again, but I could tell:
The kiss was there.

Third-grade year, Mary-Arkansas
moved to Little Rock, and I never saw her again.
I sometimes thought of her kiss
when the days dragged themselves
like doomed soldiers through the Delta. Towns dying,
blacks and whites forever fighting.
Sweet Willie Wine lashed to a light pole and stoned.
Sheriff’s home bombed.
A young father mobbed and kicked to death at a track meet.

One high school night, “the races”
were set to rumble in downtown McCrory.
The Bloods were coming from Little Rock,
the Klansmen from the Ozarks. This had to be settled.
But nothing happened. I drove dead easy
down the main drag at midnight.
Calm, deserted. The wind’s nonchalance.
The quiet was violence, too.

On Friday and Saturday nights, white daughters sneaked
“behind the bank” with black sons,
and disheveled white fathers sat in their cars
with handles of whiskey, shotguns
pointed straight at Plantation Subdivision.

No peace. No peace in quiet.
And so I speak. Confess. Testify.

One morning when I was seventeen,
I heard about Mary-Arkansas. The dark, exciting news,
like dirty drugs from a syringe,
coursed through the halls of tiny McCrory High.
“Remember Mary-Arkansas Greene?!
She got shot in the head last night in Little Rock!
They say she might not make it through the day.”
I wanted to drive to Little Rock,
find the hospital, find her room,
walk in slow, and touch her hand.
Lean down and kiss her.
At once I felt ashamed
for dreaming that my kiss—belated blessing—
would be worth a good goddamn.
That it could heal, heal anything: her, me, home.

But Mary-Arkansas’s kiss.
Soft and urgent on my neck,
sweet opposite of rope, it never left me.
I think it never will.


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Bob Boldt's picture
Bob Boldt · 5 years ago

Greg Brownderville opened the whole world of contemporary southern writing and the unique vision of southern consciousness to me. Of course no one can ignore Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, etc. Southern writers' vision most fully embraces the positive and negative aspects of American culture. Nothing better than the  poem, Song for a Kiss. 

Shelley Allen's picture
Shelley Allen · 2 years ago

I could feel the press of her warm kiss upon my own neck and the weight of his tardy blessing in my own heart.


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