When my fiancé asked why I wasn’t changing my name
after our wedding I told him how my grandmother met my
grandfather when she was seventeen, he stationed in Alabama,
a drill sergeant, overseeing three of his men as they dug
a 6 X 6 X 6 foot hole in the red clay, a receptacle for
the gum they were chewing while marching, before
filling it up again. He whistled as she walked down the street
carrying bread home from the Piggly Wiggly. When he asked her
name, Ruby Pauline must have seemed out of line. After they
married she took a train north to West Virginia where he got a job
working in the steel mills. She coughed at the air thick with coal
dust from the mines and scrubbed soot out of the house every day.
One night when the smell of cheap whiskey greeted her at the door,
he started calling her Pat. She never asked why he changed her
name, but she learned to respond, though she took to wearing red,
scarves, sundresses, growing rose bushes, tall as a man, with jewel-red buds.
Maybe he thought the name Ruby was too flashy, that it would attract
too much attention from men in town. Maybe Pat was an old lover
that married a richer man. Or, after being scolded
like a mangy dog by bosses in the mill, he could have longed
for his drill sergeant days when people answered to him
no matter what he called them and became anyone he told them to be.
It takes a minute after a man asks him
where he keeps the Kentucky Jelly
for him to understand.
He can almost guess at his logic,
after all, they are right above the border
in Wayne County, West Virginia.
He wonders if the man
associates Kentuckians with wild
(or at least well-lubricated) sex,
if he has cooked up a theory
about the state’s famous
bourbon and women
faster than greased lightning.
The pharmacy technicians
can’t hold it in any longer,
snicker and cough
at their computer screens.
He, shy and patient, tactfully replies,
“Aisle four” with a straight face.
He can’t decide whether this man
is his favorite customer
or if it is the large man
with the port wine birthmark
in the shape of Florida on his
forehead that he turned away
with his phony scrip for oxycontin,
who came back less than an hour
later to try again and swore
that he had never been there before.
Driving home, he weaves
through the hills on windy roads
carefully taking the turns
and wonders what it would feel like
to be so confident and shameless,
convinced that the world is how you see it
even as it laughs in your face.
Sunday Night Laundry
the smell of Lestoil
in the house,
the only thing
the grease from
my father’s clothes.
through the rooms,
trying not to let
our irritation show,
week of work.
My father claimed
the key to work
was to go in angrier
than it could ever
He and his crew
each other, claim
and mothers’ cunts
before punching in,
needing the blunt
hate of something
other than themselves.
in the dryer
I buried my face
in the smell,
and tried to make
the astringent air,
the sting of labor and regret.
Carrie Conners is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia CC-CUNY where she teaches creative writing, literature, and composition. Her poetry has appeared in DMQ Review, California Quarterly, Tar Wolf Review, Cider Press Review, and RHINO.