We’re not in L.A. anymore—but

inside your car it’s the same car

that sputtered across the 101 with 

out air-conditioning and a broken radio. 

Even the insects still want to live inside.

We are taking Lula to see 

Pirates of Penzance. 

You mutter the usual.

But I know you remember,

last summer—how we listened 

to mariachis on Olvera St. 

while Lula ate paletas.

She had to try every flavor, she explained,

& of course you let her, shaking your pockets

free of coins, curly head bouncing away,

before you told me you were moving back, 

to live with your sister—to kick. 

The Cape is hot this summer. We are sweating. 

Only yourwindow rolls down,

& I want to say:

When we were young, do you remember?

Our pirate ships? Our duels? Our songs?

I want to ask. But I don’t.

Inside the open ashtray, 

between us, the moth settles in.

Lula—in the backseat, tells us 

not to stop its fluttering.

It’s an angelo, she says. It will flap

back to god and tell on you. 

The first time I caught you in the bathroom,

your eyes were so red, I thought you’d already disappeared.

But it’s taking years. We are still here now with the trees 

flashing past us. You fade slow. A rose above a mirror.

Door Girl


You could say Regina was a door 

girl who wasn’t supposed to enter

a house where people fucked, wept,

swung sermons, then collapsed on bony

backs to face a ceiling of sometime stars. 

Or you could say she was a lookout, an only

listener & oh yes, that’s what she did.

One side of her face pressed against

the screen door while Lazee played the 

organ like a church, as though flowers

bloomed around him & sometimes they did.

Purple orchids. White lilies beckoning like fingers. 


Evie was a house girl & she’d sit on the other side

of Regina’s door, singing stories through the organ’s wail, 

for once, she knew everyone: 

Frida, Tina, Leonora Carrington, 

Remedios Varo when she fed the moon,

the punks off Western, the friends who’d kicked

& the friends who hadn’t—who went back home,

or were found too late.

Angeline with her billboard breasts,

businessmen, & pink convertible.


In the afternoons,

when the orchids & lilies shrunk to bulbs

& the flies got tired

of buzzing wings on screen, 

Evie licked her gold tooth

for luck & asked: 

“Regina, are you feeling cold? Because, a girl must

want a roof, even if she sleeps inside the tiniest

Matryoshka—even if she carries a Ziploc bag purse.”

My Mom’s Trip(s) to the City Jail

Can you see the future 

like you feel the wind

in your hair-sprayed perm

and under your young knees, 

pedaling your bike through 

a red Memphis evening 

because brother Kenny stole another go-kart? 

When you pass the 32nd pothole from the trailer park 

across from Pop’s “pretty good” liquor store, 

do you envision log cabin countrysides, 

or have you always known about

the cigarette college fund? 

Braking at the crosswalk, 

do you peer over your padded shoulders,

or do you focus on the possibility of baby powder

in the dry flowers by the bus stop? 

Did you know

you’d find your mother years later

in the bathtub – a martyr for watercolors – 

and did you know you’d say to me,

“Take whatever you want. 

You can have it.” 

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

half-burned cigarette

why did you 

         always say

“a bird will use it 

         to make a nest”

when you stomped embers

         of half-burned cigarettes 

into the crevices 

         of concrete paths – 

as if any sensible 


would want to taste 

         your nicotine

               or smell the remnants 

                         or your whiskey-soaked breath?

Rock Castle

“Polly… certainly believed that [Samuel] would make a fine companion. Unfortunately for fifteen-year-old Polly, her father thought otherwise… His plans came to naught, however, when the two young lovers eloped in 1796… Andrew and Rachel Jackson had been happy to assist Samuel and Polly in eloping…” – Old Hickory’s Nephew: The Political and Private Struggles of Andrew Jackson Donelson by Mark R. Cheathem 

The grass sank between

the soles of my sandals  

while we passed under the fences 

like playing a game of limbo 

trespassing into history 

Daniel Smith’s castle

crafted from limestone 

glistened in the moonlight  

and the shore of Old Hickory Lake 

sang to us, despite being outlaws.

We cited lines 

from Tennessee storytelling  

recalling the time 

that Sam Donelson

and Andrew Jackson crossed 

the river— 

the summer humidity shallowing the waters

enough for horses 

to trot across them. 

The cool Tennessee air kissing the backs of their necks

while slivers of moonlight

illuminated their trail. 

We wondered aloud 

how the ladder must have sounded 

as it brushed up against Polly Smith’s windowpane

how she grasped on to tree branches,  

splinters piercing the palms of her hands

while climbing down

to the grass we stood on.  

How the trio galloped to Hunter’s Hill,

against the light of the morning sun,  

a priest waiting earnestly 

to affirm their elopement. 

We walked to the family cemetery,

protected by stone walls

eroded by time and tourists’ touch.

Behind the unlocked wrought-iron gate,

tombstones like chess pieces 

sit stoically, 

marking each white body 

encased in the slave-tilled earth.

The Trail

You speak in the tremble of leaves,

the whispered crunch of maple settling in the grass

I hear you in the cries above me, as the geese

        are flying west.

There isn’t much farther to go, and you and I,

end here where broken trails reign incomplete.

Your soil fed by salt water, marching through your heart.

The ruins dot your highways, and no one stops to picture

their ancestors nestled in dirty, crumbling cocoons,

        sleeping beneath our feet.

Crying out from the white clay that we remade,

the red, the native, the Tennessee: erased. 

Your cedar and pine burn in cast iron shells, life

and death in the light which brands our shadows.

The memorials now are rusted steel on road sides.

        Today will never know

how bare feet beat your flesh, like drums against the earth

as the melody of the broken was forged on your body.

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN