Bar Mitzvah Road Trip by Tracy Mishkin
Five hundred miles to Memphis in August—
the air conditioning gave up before the Illinois border.
The hot wind blowing through the car couldn’t stop
the shirt from sticking to my back. The sky so hazy
and bright, my head hurt from squinting. A giant cross
in a cornfield. “John 3:16 And God So Loved Memphis.”
By then I was ready to go home, but ahead lay two days
of my ex-husband, our troubled teenage son, his new step-mother,
our old best friends, their son Bar Mitzvah Boy,
and a hundred people I knew ten years ago.
Dinner Friday night. Nine o’clock, ten, our time.
No entrée yet in sight. Our pals had piled on
a decade of gray hair. “You’re the only one
who hasn’t gotten fat,” my ex remarked. A week shy
of fourteen, my son seemed more like eight as he sagged
across my lap. My ex threw me a dirty look:
“He wouldn’t act like that if you didn’t encourage him.”
I whispered “fuck you” twice, then apologized.
Bar Mitzvah Boy led the three-hour service
and gave a sermon. My son ate Cheez-Its in the balcony
and asked me when we could go home.
The children swam all afternoon in the hotel pool
shaped like a guitar. Except my son, who lurked upstairs,
alone. I dragged him out, but he refused to play
and muttered creepy things that made me think
he’d be a mug shot on News at Six in half a dozen years.
Bar Mitzvah Boy, whose real name means illumination,
or something sweet from Kabbalah, encouraged him
to join the older kids at cards. No dice.
That night I led the evening prayers, throwing
my motley heart in every song. And in the silent meditation,
at last I found the words: Dear God, bless my son.
And more: how long, my God, how long? We gathered
for a photograph and the boys embraced.
Early Sunday morning, I chewed on the buffet
and thought about the drive home. My ex announced
he was heading east to Nashville because “it’s easier
to speed in Tennessee.” Our son was riding with him,
but I said nothing. I turned my car north toward
the Mississippi and tried to cue up Langston Hughes,
but that cassette tape had melted in the hot, hot car.
Swamp Rats by Tracy Mishkin
I once scored a semester of college gym credit by canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp over spring break. Not a bad deal, though I had homework and packed a nine-hundred page Victorian novel. The instructors: grad students in political correctness who made spaghetti sauce with salt-free tomatoes and frowned when I ate my cereal and dumped the powdered milk on the ground. “No alcohol,” they told us. “This is a college-sponsored trip.” Tony, an Irish grad student in artificial hip design, rolled his eyes and snuck out for beer. Tony didn’t need to take P.E.—he wanted to see America on his break. Red dirt and pine trees. Swamp magnolias and cypress ghosts. It would have been more scenic if Tony weren’t hung over. He sagged in the bow while I paddled, lily pads dragging at the blade. At night he argued with Teddy the college Marxist around the campfire. Teddy lived in a tent to protest apartheid, when he wasn’t living in a tent for Ivy League gym credit. Black vultures and white egrets. 15 photos of alligators. We stopped to fish atop a dam, and Teddy killed the pike he caught by beating it on the cement. We didn’t eat it. I swallowed the meat-free chili and read Middlemarch. Provincial English life in the 1830s. Four hundred thousand acres of peat-filled wetlands. I got an A in gym.
Dorothy’s Grave by Sarah Russell
“They haven’t dug the grave yet.”
Mom and I were at the cemetery
after Dorothy’s viewing.
“The funeral’s not ’til 2 tomorrow,” I said.
“They’ll dig it in the morning.”
“They should have it dug,” she fussed.
Mom is a farm woman, used to death,
especially now. She turned 90 in the fall,
and Dorothy was her last good friend
in the tiny delta town where children leave
for jobs or school or just to escape the soy
and cotton. Her church has only 20 members
left—old women who show off corsages they get
for Mother’s Day and sometimes cajole their husbands
to come in overalls and slicked-back hair.
Dorothy and Mom taught Bible school, went to bingo
and Eastern Star, traded recipes and gossip.
Mom killed a rabid skunk in Dorothy’s yard
with the double barrel she keeps under the bed,
and Dorothy came to quilt on Wednesdays —
just the two of them since the other three passed on.
“Why’s it important to see the empty grave,” I asked..
“I need to know she’ll be comfortable,” Mom said.
“She’d do the same for me.”
About the Contributors
Tracy Mishkin taught at Georgia College & State University for eight years and is currently an MFA student in Creative Writing at Butler University. Her chapbook, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her second chapbook, The Night I Quit Flossing, is forthcoming from Five Oaks Press. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Sarah Russell has returned to poetry after a career teaching, writing and editing academic prose. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, The Houseboat, and Shot Glass Journal, among others. Follow her work at www.SarahRussellPoetry.com