Big-Headed Anna Imagines Herself at Cypress Bayou On the 2nd Day of her Honeymoon
Husband, I whisper, so only you hear. All day we fished the water’s asparagus froth. With finger triggered on your line, you still wait for the bass to bite. We sit long into the bayou night, the most beautiful part of the dark when most are asleep. It’s when the snowy egret that sheds long white plumes on the water, awakens. He has seen his kind slaughtered to make hat aigrettes. The egret tells me a story of a slave couple, a boy and a girl who would not be sold off or split up. The lovers pretended to be cypress knees, taking slow breaths, huddling inside the hollow stump for days, half-crazed from not being able to lie down. Then the shrill sounds of bloodhounds mixed with the shrieks of the swamp owl. Before the yipping hounds closed in, the snowy egret plucked the lovers up onto his wings and off they flew into the mangrove sky. Husband, nothing is forgotten in these slow waters. Not even long ago torchlight that brigands steered through the cypress swamp by, flame that called the moths to bat their wings and deliriously dive into the flame. Nothing is lost. Not even the startled hiss of the wood nymphs and tiger moths’ wings as they sizzle. You are not listening. My shoulders and big head rub against their own round prison. Dark’s more than a taste, it molds you into its own shape. To please you I’ll draw my shawl around my head and cover my face. The rest of me will tremble and shine; I’ll become moonlight, a just-caught fish. I’ll wait days for your touch as I have given you all of my savings and intend for us to make a baby.
Big-Headed Anna Imagines Herself in New Orleans On the 3rd Day of her Honeymoon
If I cut my eyelashes there would be no feeling. I would have to move my ear lobe between the grist’s flint or the tip of my nose to understand about touch. To show you how orchids thrive in snow and spongy soil, an earthworm loses its head and grows another. Tallow, bone, flesh. My neck thinks of me as its lily. Wandering toward the French Quarter under a talon of moon, I sing in a beautiful whisper. Hush little brittlestar who lives underwater. My big head hides under my bigger hat. I shiver listening to the river, the cotton barges. The Mississippi ruts with Chouteau swamp. Decatur Street breeds surly pecan trees. Sweat drips from my eyelids. I walk the streets, strange beautiful names, Carondelet, Esplanade, Dumaine, Marigny, Bienville. Heat collects in the narrows of camellias, in the eaves and gutters. Everything’s in suspension. I’m an octoroon in pale blue. I’m a hoop-skirted belle emptying my chamber pot on the heads of Yankee soldiers, a Storyville sweet girl swathed in a silk kimono haunting gardenia-thickened parlors. My lonesomeness comforts me. Our Father who art in New Orleans hallowed be Thy name. Kingdom of the Fiery Throated Hummingbird and White Alligator Thy will be done. Sometimes I love water. I love standing tall. And then I grow small–a tree lying on its side. A dugout canoe floating off into the Egg Nebula. An old spirit inhabits me, a wise and tender being. I forget what place I came from. The deep swamp is my home. I was left in a nest of large sticks and placed in a mangrove tree. The birds are my friends, the pretty ones with long white feathers and red legs, the not so pretty ones. When I was a baby crying out in hunger a large graceful creature soaring over me heard. Was it a snowy egret that became my mother and fed me fish milk? What kind of thing is Big-Headed Anna? Answer me.
Big-Headed Anna Imagines Eating Pasta After Being Abandoned
Heat settles on the motes of dust and sun turning them gold and green. She hears wings beating close to her head. Her hand is beating too. Like Italian opera. Lucrezia Borgia, Il Furioso, El Cid, Carmen, Aida. Voices like a storm surge trapped inside. Feed yourself Casamento spaghetti, how it comes hungry and the waiter asks if you want pepper and when you say yes he leans in with a wooden grinder and black flakes of snow fall onto the white pasta. Black and white—the colors of New Orleans. Perfect blend. The first forkful is so warm it’s like giving love to yourself. What a wonder New Orleans is! But even opera can’t drown out the sadness of pasta. How it doesn’t last. Her words come out like pokeweed and sit on the still air. She’s hired herself out for ten years to make this trip. Now on Magazine Street between the blue storefronts the white dog hobbles toward her with foam around its mouth, so much spittle it hangs in a lasso from his muzzle, the color of churned butter. His bloodshot eyes are frightened. The ropes of saliva swing as the rabid dog totters toward her. Goliath trees nudge the sidewalk and heave up last night’s leftover magnolia scent. All the old warnings come back. Rabid dogs dread water but must have it. Now the dog’s eyes are boiling as if kettles left to burn. Abide with me. Past the shrill barking stage, he’s going to jump for her throat. When teeth sink through my skin, she thinks, I’ll know there’s nowhere else to go. I’ll try to hold on and float, but I’ll be heavy and sinking. Down I’ll go into the black water where the fish are flowing. I’ll touch the pale yellow of an angelfish. Then he staggers. She knows how the rabid go through the furies gnawing at the air as though a bone, tearing potato vines from the ground, then tearing the earth itself. She holds out her arms ready to embrace the dog’s terrible loneliness. It is her own. Like rock salt. Then he falls, dragging himself along, his hind legs limp. The dog knows. She watches the rabies lose their grip and a gentleness return. She kneels to stroke the fur that feels like slivers. Before his melting eyes go out they look at her. I love you, she says, petting his head. Here we all are. The crepe myrtles and the cigar shop with its wooden Indian standing guard.
Stephanie Dickinson raised on an Iowa farm has lived in Texas, Louisiana, and now in New York City. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon. Her work appears in HotelAmerika, Mudfish, Weber, Fjords, Water–StoneReview, Gargoyle, Rhino, StoneCanoe, Westerly, and NewStoriesfromthe South, among others. Love Highway was recently released by Spuyten Duyvil. Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg is available from New Michigan Press.