365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


Mama Was Scarlett

Yes, they were lined up
for miles in Atlanta, scads
of them, to audition,
but I was right
for the part
and Selznick knew it.
I had poise,
je ne sais quoi.
Zest is what it was!

What were they
looking for? Dynamite!
I sashayed in, out-
fitted to a T,
in a bouncy, full-skirted sun
dress, the back cut
way, way out and a choker --
oh, very high heels, patent
leather belt, real kid
gloves. The other girls
were no one
you'd ever want
to know, most all of them
blonde with tacky powder puff
hair, kewpie-doll lips chewing
on Chicklets,
common as June bugs.

I could act curtains
around these Macon twins
who tried to undermine me.
A Hollywood tycoon took me
to the Paradise Room on Peachtree,
at the Henry Grady Hotel,
bought me two shrimp
cocktails, swigged
his Singapore Sling and told me
"You are it.
I've found my star."
He saw it down
in my eyes.
"Give me that
smile," he said. "You were made
in heaven for this part,
your style, the way you tilt
your head. It's awful
tantalizing." He told me confidentially
that a Roman nose was perfect
and I had the voice
without that phoney drawl
so many of the other girls
affected. You see, it's all a matter
of letting the audience know
who's boss. I come alive on stage.

No Potatoes

Fred lives through the walls
on the other side
of our duplex apartment
with his mother Mabel
and the red-headed girlfriend,
I see him coming and going.
He sings quick, blue-eyed,
straight at me,
"All that meat and no potatoes."
His fingers snap and in that car
he whips around fast. Gone.

"Get in this house!" Mama says.
"Sit on those back steps like that, lady,
he'll back right over you some day.
Where is he going so fast, you tell me,
decked out in that soldier uniform?"

I'm waiting on the back steps
that afternoon. Fred zips up.
"All that meat and no potatoes."
Hands me this tight-stuffed,
wood-headed monkey.
"Got him at the station
in Chicago," Fred sings.

This monkey has a chest-fitted, bell-boy suit on.
A shoecord comes right out of his top knot to dangle by.
"Foxtrots on a coffee table," Fred says.
"He's a real short-order, paper-boy-smart
whiz-kid Chicago guy." Snap, Fred's gone.
That monkey's all mine, for keeps.

The Trees

Mom woke to find her neighbor's oaks
hacked down, exposing her
to eyes she knew were there,
way past our yard.

She gathered blanket, robe, and moved
into the shuttered room out back,
came out to eat and gaze
sometimes, quite calm,
on where the trees had been.

She would not speak
about them, did not cry.
She never talked too much
again, except to say
people watched the house
and her and who'd have guessed
at all this highway traffic?
And that shell of moon,
why was it hung up there in
so much light?


The wild heart of every white Southern woman
is like a river swamp --
fearfully mysterious, choked
with longing, cruel,
tense, quick like the slap
of a haw branch
in the face.
The quiet places of her heart
are simple, earth-bound.
The raw parts are riddled
with terror.
Haunted by forms
of strange, writhing plants.

Mama never had anything
of her very own, then
she had me.

The sumac embraces
a tree, runs its vine out,
locks, around in a day,
around again, locks.
In two weeks, its star-shaped leaves
are the size of a woman's hand.
They bleed red in a cold snap.
Another season and the leaf
growth is a sheath.
The suction pads are tiny,
smaller than a woman's little fingernail,
but ruthlessly tenacious.
It is impossible to pull
the plant from the tree.
Its billion half-inch, clinging
threads penetrate the trunk.
With an axe or scythe,
a man could hack
off pieces of vine, burn
them. A futile exertion.
The pinworm tendrils of the sumac
work into bark, worm
into pith. If the tendrils shrivel
and die, in early spring,
root growth brings the sumac out
of the ground again.

Beth Crawford, a graduate of Agnes Scott and a professional writer for the past 22 years, recently moved back to Columbia from Los Angeles, where her work appeared in the L.A. Times and other periodicals. One of the last students to study with the late James Dickey at the University of South Carolina, she is currently completing requirements there for an M.F.A. in fiction. The poems here are among the first she has written since high school.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 9/12/97