HOMELAND POEMS AND VIGNETTES
Praise for Louisiana Pines
With a deft hand and in a resonant voice, Bessie Senette goes deep into love of home and humanity in Louisiana Pines. From dancehalls to the mysteries of Louisiana’s varied landscapes, Senette calls upon ancestors who told stories to keep histories alive and their human connections tightly-bound. In her poem, Holy Stick, she is given the power to speak while being fully heard. This book is the Holy Stick that she carries with her to speak Truth, transporting and transforming us in the process.
~Clare L. Martin, author of Eating the Heart First, Seek the Holy Dark, and Crone.
How we spend each breath matters, Bessie Senette reminds us, and we are wise to listen further. At once deeply rooted in her native Louisiana of shimmering light and sands’ murderous burn and encompassing our entire blue planet, Louisiana Pines is in toto a treasured wonderment. We can almost taste the gumbo, smell the fetid bayou waters. We may confront life’s many griefs, but Bessie bids us follow her from heartbreak back to joy.
~Karla Linn Merrifield, poet, Psyche’s
The cover art was done by a brilliant young artist, Stephen J. Hawkins.
My first foray into fiction writing is a flash fiction piece that was written at a writer’s retreat at Chicot State Park on a rare winter in Southern Louisiana that had snow appearing twice in a week. Not convinced that I will ever write a novel but I did enjoy exploring this genre. Enjoy!
Shadows of the Dead
He took Dad’s old shovel from the toolshed, walked to the far corner of the backyard under the chokeberry tree and began to dig a hole. I watched through the kitchen window as I washed the supper dishes. I returned the dishes to the cabinet then I sat alone in dad’s chair. I could still smell Old Spice and wood shavings. The setting sun did not halt my brother’s digging. Later, through another window, I saw him standing neck deep in the full moonlight of a clear summer night. Satisfied finally that the hole was deep enough, he climbed out and threw Dad’s tools into the hole, and filled it up again. He didn’t need to wipe his eyes with his sleeve for me to know he was crying, nor did he have to tell me why he had done it. I understood. Our father was a craftsman.
The next morning, I stood with my brother and the funeral director at the gravesite. The sound of dirt hitting the wooden casket and the morning chirping of woodland birds was his elegy. Our church was the forest. Our prayers were the memories of the whisperings of an old wood plane and the scratching of a handsaw.
My father wasn’t an easy man to like, much less love but we did and we stayed beside him – never married, never left the house we were born in. Oh, there were suitors, and we caroused in town on occasion but it never came to anything lasting. To say that we loved our way of life would be overstating it. We found value in it and we made money at it. Craftsmanship is hard work. It requires precision and exclusive dedication.
Mornings begin the same. I wake first to make a strong pot of dark roast coffee in the old, porcelain drip coffee pot that once belonged to my grandmother. Then Dad wakes and starts the breakfast. Next, Joey comes in just in time to sit down and eat, fully dressed for the day in denim coveralls and work boots. No one speaks. We each know our roles. If Dad needs anything from town, he has written it on a chalkboard by the back door that leads to the wood shop. If it’s heavy lifting, Joey goes into town in the old diesel truck, if not, I go in my vintage Chevy Malibu.
And when I say vintage what I really mean is an old, run-down, piece of crap.
Looking at the chalkboard now, I wonder if some chalk words will magically appear and I’ll have my instructions for the day. I’ve done it every morning for the last twenty years. I don’t think my brain has caught up with reality yet. I suppose that Joey will eventually start writing on the chalkboard but he’s still sleeping. It’s four in the morning, I should make the coffee but I can’t seem to lift myself out of Dad’s chair. I’ve been here all night wondering what’s next.
Sounds from the kitchen distract me. Joey is making the coffee. I feel a tinge of guilt, but I don’t move. He brings me a cup and sits down in Mom’s chair. This shocks me and I move forward to sit upright. No one has sat in Mom’s chair since she died eighteen years ago. It’s both appalling and intriguing. Joey is speaking words in his usual gentle voice but they’re not making sense. I take a sip of coffee and try to listen more carefully. I hear him say, “ Sis, do you understand?” “I think, “of course I don’t, you idiot,” but I keep staring into my coffee cup and nod. He knows me well. He doesn’t raise his voice, only his tone shifts and then says,
“ Martha Elizabeth, do you understand?” Only our mother ever called me by my full name and I can’t help but notice that he is using her exact tone of voice.
“Martha Elizabeth,“ I’m leaving.”
“When will you be back?
“That’s just it. I’m not.”
“You’re not what?”
“Sis, (Thank God, he’s back to Sis.) I’m not just going to town. I’m leaving the state. I’m going to Arkansas. I need a new start. I need to be far away from here.”
“What are you going to do? You buried Dad’s tools. You won’t be able to make furniture.”
“I never wanted to make furniture. I wanted to take care of Dad and you. Mom made me promise. Dad’s dead and you are smarter than all of us put together. There’s money in the bank that I’ll take half of. There’s 46 acres and this house that Dad built. I’ve been to the lawyer and signed all the papers so you can have all of it.”
“So what am I supposed to do?
“I was hoping you would go to college. Get a degree. Use your brain for something other than taking care of two stinky men.”
When Joey was younger he would put on Dad’s Old Spice aftershave so heavy you could smell it all the way to New Orleans. Dad overheard me telling him that he stunk and said, “I guess you think I stink too.” I blushed so red they both laughed. I joined in. It was such an unusual sound, all of us laughing, that we kept at it for quite some time, until our sides ached and tears ran down our faces. It was such a blessed relief to feel something other than sadness. The phrase, “two stinky men,” always made us smile.
This time I wasn’t smiling and he knew how scared I was. It was all fine for him, starting a new life, a man living in a man’s world but I’m almost thirty, and starting from scratch just doesn’t seem possible.
“You can think about it as long as you want to. There is enough cash for you to live in New Orleans and go to UNO like you wanted to when you graduated high school. It’s not so far away so you can come back here between semesters and holidays if it comforts you to be here in this house, near your friends.
I almost laughed out loud at that. My friends, who would that be? Mr. Badeaux, the grocer, Mr. Benoit at the meat market, Mrs. Chastant, the Post Master? Every one of my classmates from high school has moved away or lives even further out in the boonies with husbands and three or four kids to brag about. I am noticing that I sound a little like Mrs. Chastant who has been here all of her 67 years and complains about everything and everyone. A sudden realization that I could become her gives me pause.
Joey has stopped talking. It’s as though he can sense that he has started the wheels turning in my mind. He doesn’t want to interrupt that process so he waits patiently until I say, “How much money?”
© 2018 Bessie Adams Senette