To Make Peace With My Life

An Arkansas veteran and professor unearths the South’s ambiguous tracks.

Confederate Cemetery: Cabot, Arkansas

The battle lines rise
in soft curves like mother love
surrounding the nip of a hill
where a contingent of confederates  

shot at squirrels to roast for supper,
died damp and dirty from dysentery,
too confused in their bones for Christian burial, so
rested a century like rotted stumps

until a local politician with Robert E. Lee’s face
hanging over his fireplace
unearthed the names of these white boys
who but for their crooked teeth

and pale hides owned nothing
to await their resurrection,
so he put them in uncomfortable, blindingly
white rigid rows pitched at an angle so that

sun up, sun down,
January or July,
the Confederate dead throw gray shade 
no matter where the visitor stands.

My True Hand

At age seven, I learned to write my name
in Southern blood, tinged with kerosene and whiskey

The letter “t” topples over to its right side
like a cactus, a crucifix,
a railroad crossing sign in Texarkana, Texas

My b’s and d’s and p’s
could be anywhere
easily confused as piano keys, f’s, g’s, sharps, flats

To analyze them took graduate study,
changes in legal residence, psychotherapy, Ah!
but I form prominent A’s and other vowels
because it’s cheery to sing them

My Q’s are queenly, unseemly, risqué
I spare no expense on uppercase X’s and S’s
but I’m stingy with low-riding m’s, n’s, and w’s
shutting them down like lawn chairs

I extend credit to large-boned O’s
socialize with nines and fives
scoop up the short u’s in umbrella
hunger, ugly, and supper

replacing them with the long u as in thank you,
youth, soup, truth—
dark, inky sounds that leak inside my mouth
staining my tongue like a pen.

My Itinerary

Impatient with the poke-along pace of the South,
I called Yellow Cab in Little Rock,
tooled down MLK to the Greyhound terminal,
rode one way to Boston—
rest stops in Anniston, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.—
arrived two nights later in America’s Athens
where the Trailways drivers were striking,
exchanged a ticket to Concord, New Hampshire
for a seat on the New England Patriot line
but the stop in Concord was canceled.

So I disembarked in Manchester,
traipsed umpteen blocks—
socks and souvenirs for luggage—
to an Amtrak bound for Chicago,
hailed a limo for O’Hare,
where Delta Air routed me through Atlanta
to resume my schooling
or swap for a half-price seat to Houston,
which I immediately accepted, except
the Gulf Stream was unusually turbulent—
oil oozing out of towers and money on fire. 

So in lieu of a diversion to Dallas-Fort Worth,
I took a complimentary ticket
to stony, leafy Little Rock—
governmental center for soybeans, rice,
rivers gritty with catfish.

I claimed my baggage,
welcomed by the familiar black hands and white faces of clocks,
slow-moving vowels, big-boned consonants—
sweaty, embarrassed, swearing this time
to make peace with my life.

Author Profile

Kae Chatman is a poet, veteran, and former university professor. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University, and an MA and PhD in Philosophy from Kansas University. Kae has taught at Philander Smith College and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, among others. She has poems published or forthcoming in NonBinary Review, Sage Cigarettes, and Hallaren Literary Magazine. She lives in Arkansas with her wife and beautiful dachshund.

Leave a Comment