Past the starting line in Louisville, Dixie’s a six-lane tangle,
car lots made carnival—balloons and barkers, cheap
strings of lights and triangle flags—then discount
recliners, country kitchen oak, concrete
ducks dressed in bonnets for your lawn, racks and racks
of knock-off jeans, knock-off bags, and for the working man,
manly bins of wife-beaters and white tube socks.
Dixie is all-you-can-eat—ribeye, T-bone, sirloin—
you pick your own piece of meat—and the buffet ends
soft-serve, sprinkles in every color for the kids.
Here, the highway’s bottomless, buy-one-get-one-
free, come on down to Big Tom’s, we’ll do ya up right,
until the road bends to
girls with big tiddies and bad teeth, girls doing
best they can at Dixie’s Trixie and Go-Go-Derby Gals.
When we drove past, it was always
breakfast time, the trucks still parked in those gravel lots
looking terrible lonely
in broad morning light.
Outside town, Kentucky was all winter,
mud wind-whipped to beige
ice and trees brittled
bone, the lanes blood-smeared
deer and stray dog,
and on walls of rock
blasted from the mountain,
limestone wept long stalactites
of frozen white.
Because my body was small, I still fell
asleep to rocking things
and dreamt to the tires’
pop n churn, pop n churn
waiting for Fanny to say
wake now up, Koey
hours later when Tennessee
pines greened things up again.
Next came the long fingers
of moss haunting
orange groves, miles and miles
of fruit polka-dotting the waxy sheen.
Finally, a miracle—a wonder
like a troll doll spun
on a pencil’s eraser end—growing not
out of dirt or clay or what men
tracked in on boots,
but from clean, easy-to-sweep-away sand,
a tree without leaves that fall
and need to be raked but fronds,
the kind cut and braided at church
Sunday before the capital-S son goes and dies
all over again.
We’ll go with Fanny, and we’ll go to the beach every day, all our problems
gone, Mama said, because at the end of Dixie’s The Florida Turnpike,
at the end of the turnpike’s the sea.
We took Dixie because Dixie was made for
a car like Fanny’s, a car that preferred
old highway, a car that wanted nothing to do with
needless speed, a car that was built
to coal-barge glide, owning the damn road.
It was a Cadillac, her El Dorado, a car impossibly
long with impossible fins, white and waxed and gassed
ready-chrome-go, the interior kid glove in Atomic Red,
a climate-controlled bomb shelter, an escape hatch,
an automobile called home.
The factory mats were replaced with white shag rugs,
and because I was a child, I was allowed to be the little animal
I was, curled up and hiding in that woolen nest
behind the driver’s seat. Up front, my matriarchal line
laughed and cussed and flicked so many cigarettes
we were our own comet,
tiny red stars sparking down that road.
Dixie starts in burning cold, in gas stations
where you have to ask for the bathroom key
and the man hands you one chained to a hubcap that opens
the kind of toilet Mama and Fanny say not to touch
with a ten-foot pole.
They suspend me over, my arms hooked
around each of their necks and their arms holding
my legs. I am a little girl made cable car, a cloud high above,
I am a giggle of weightlessness until Fanny says,
Enough now, pee.
Later, bathrooms don’t get any cleaner, but each state
has treasure to sell—in Tennessee, it’s homemade
lemon drops and cast iron to shape cornbread
into little fish; in Georgia, it’s billboards
for Pecans, Peanuts, Peaches every five miles
though all we buy is a bologna sandwich
that gives Mama the shits.
Across the final line, it’s saltwater taffy
in every Miami-Vice shade, and Roy Rogers welcomes
weary travelers with stale biscuits and sticky showers
and Pac-Man machines. Mama gives me some quarters,
You see? I knew it. Even the rest
stops are better, everything’s getting so green and warm and clean.
How many times did we make the trip,
Kentucky to Florida and back? So many
I can honestly say maybe that long tar-patch highway
is where I was raised.
It was a move we made whenever we could, more times
than I care to count; it was a chance to leave
behind the men and the cold; it was a long stretch
with Howard Johnson’s in between.
Ho-Jo’s is only place clean enough to sleep, Fanny said,
and once my weary drivers drifted off
I’d sneak out to the hotel pool, slip under
the surface, hold my breath,
open my eyes to the blue lit from within.
Amniotic, a mermaid then, a girl with nothing
but sunshine ahead, without a clue
as far as we got, wherever we went,
there we would find
ourselves, there we would still be.
From Nickole Brown’s Fanny Says: Poems, published by BOA Editions, Ltd, Rochester, NY, 2015.
About Nickole Brown
Nickole Brown grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and Deerfield Beach, Florida. Her books include Fanny Says, a collection of poems published by BOA Editions in 2015; her debut, Sister, a novel-in-poems published by Red Hen Press in 2007; and an anthology, Air Fare, that she co-edited with Judith Taylor. She graduated from The Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She worked at the independent, literary press, Sarabande Books, for ten years, and she was the National Publicity Consultant for Arktoi Books and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. She has taught creative writing at the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, and was on faculty at the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until deciding to write full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry at White Pine Press and is on faculty at the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State and at the Writing Workshops in Greece. In May of 2016, she will be moving to Asheville, North Carolina, to live with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.