Mr. Thom Wallace and so-and-so Bird behind the Virgin with the rusted neck and the carmine blemish. Mary before juniors and sons. Mary against a periwinkle sky. Mary, watch over him. Thom Wallace. Ace of walls, lace law, hot mm-oth. July 23, 1959 and the sky is a nylon stretch across black clouds. If you’re born and die in the spring, can you be an Ace? Are you walled into a lunar cycle or Ordinary Time? Is there a taste of Easter on your tongue? How many lambs did you see in your lifetime and did they bleat?
The spread consisted of crustless sandwiches and air cookies one year. His children touched their necks. Years later, Junior would be choking on an apple or going down on a secretary. And the dates would line up with little to no semblance of order: 1959, 1973, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2002, and on. Half a century and the stone is running out. When TW turns over in his grave, his bones are sugar cubes in hot tea. He makes room. Welcome, family.
There’s the girl in leopard print tap pants and a white dress who took her husband’s name even though she’d always been ahead of her time, a feminist, natch. Beneath the ground, the dead instruct each other in socio-cultural trends, political movements in a muddy lexicon. They’re all giddy over verbal currency. H. Bird downed the Quaaludes with a pitcher of Aqua Velvas in a dressing gown as her husband’s Nova purred into the garage. Buried in her favorite teardrop peridot earrings.
The progeny is thankful for the Virgin. Mary is a darling ref. Sweets and kisses, this isn’t a tension piece. Even the dead keep trying to construct a bridge. Is it suspension or brick? Have there been jumpers? Would the plummet result in a drowning or a crumpling? Have trains whistled recently? Oh, relax, the Virgin says. This is a treeless yard in the middle of Iowa. We’re so far from aquatic concerns and none of you signed up for the civil engineer’s brigade. Two out of five scorned the newspaper. Okay, so a subscription resulted in boots stuffed with the classifieds, presents wrapped in the funnies. What a bunch of scrimpers. You’d think they’d recognize that plot is taxable.
Penny-pinching ale and chicken salad, Melba toast and a wrist of splinters. Who’d splurge on a table cloth? Who’d picnic at her feet? In 2010, he’s petting hair and admiring fingers amidst chatter about lineage. No one is too experienced with champagne. It’s Mandatum for Mary with Veuve Cliquot. All parties are charmed by the possibility of a title.
Of a still life, of a portrait, of a chapbook, of a sequence. Here is the happy family, above and below ground. The visitors experience a collective digestive groan. The Virgin keeps eroding. The Pampas grass grows unwieldy. Bird and Wallace and the gang play bridge or canasta, depending on the drink specials. It’s peachy. Even the lamest cocktails have egg white and none of the gentlemen worry about hair loss.
Fret not. In the future, everything will flower and burn. The Virgin tends to their aesthetic concerns—Yes, a wall of lace would charm the pants off the latest inductee, the second cousin with a wine-stain on his left thigh that carried heat in the summer like a head of black hair. All this concentration of temperature and family, but their Virgin is a sweetheart. Sure, there is the circuitry of roots, a network of tendrils, the forensics of hair and nails—these are people interested in outsider art or tentative installations and Mary doesn’t mind. If only they’d attended the lecture on kitsch. For Pete’s sake, she’s wearing a bow at her waist, a ceremonial pinafore of grace and goodness. Let’s race to preside over her dead. Claw and ale, moth and lace. Dib and Son. Lux et al. It’s a blue day. The clouds are shiftless. No one in the family was ever too keen on the cross.
JoAnna Novak co-edits and publishes Tammy. She lives in St. Louis.