October in Oklahoma | The Errand


poems by Lisa Lewis


October in Oklahoma


You don’t have to believe it.
But this is how it is,
autumn in Oklahoma, where the people
who call themselves Okies—they never
heard that name was made up
to say they’re stupid—threaten me
with scary tricks. Halloween was never
my favorite holiday anyway. The trees
stretch up tall on their legs
and bare their teeth like dogs
lawfully trained to frighten innocent people.
It’s probably required or the preachers
talk about it in church Wednesday
night when the real believers go.
Okies are farmers, proud of it,
as much as they’re proud of
anything. Proud of sunsets, sure. Purple
plums that drop from the sky.
You might not know the difference.
You might hear a loud noise,
like the sky had a mind
of its own, murderous, and you
grab the tail of the winding
thing made of wind: the part
you’d believe from movies. I’m talking
about the religious fanatics, the signs
in their yards, crosses, inside, outside,
vine crosses, iron crosses, plaster crosses,
hair crosses, tooth and bone crosses,
you name it, driving you crazy.
The fanatics want you to be
crazy so they can be sane.
You might think they hate Halloween
because you read that religious fanatics
think it’s satanic, which makes sense,
except they’re not thinking about sense,
they’re doing meth and dressing up.
Nothing else will solace them, spinning
like dervishes, driving F-350’s, declaring freedoms,
planting trees like crosses. I’d tell
you it was like the 1950’s
but it’s not McCarthyism and Howdy
Doody. It’s more like a blanket
woven of crosses and dead-tongued silence
and drinking beer on dirt roads,
throwing cans out windows and driving
over them to make them flat,
and me, tell you the truth,
after so much time I’ve had
to do some serious thinking and
I guess I’ve stayed because I
already thought the worst of the
world and this was the place
that would always back me up.


The Errand


I was right about a few things, I was,
and he was dead set on one thing,
his love for the woman I’d known
he wanted when we puttered up
to a grocery store in his ancient Volvo,
gear stick shuddering, a warning finger,
we’d best stare out opposite windows
onto weedy Blue Ridge slant-ups
and boarded shanties of the poor
we almost weren’t. He didn’t want
to help me pick out tampons,
he didn’t care about lemons to broil
on the eyes of the fish he hoisted
from pond waters dribbled
with corn freckles. We had to argue
the morality of accompaniment,
and the wall, window-layered,
chastising bright glass band blistered
up a pay phone, where he dragged
a dime—those were the days
of song, habit, prediction
hitting the girl on the head—
and fingered it into the slit.
The summoning code slipped
the current of obsessive dreaming,
pond full of fish that longed to die
for a pan, that leapt from crowded
waters, choose me, I’m the same
but better, I’m already yours, I’m here,
what I might’ve said, or did say,
and the woman at the tapered end
of the number like a curly poodle
on a leash embroidered
with sticky hearts must’ve been lying
on her narrow mattress
willing the phone to ring.
It was her birthday and she had
no one to celebrate, no gift
to unbutton and admire
prying out like a hitchhiker’s
thumb, but then it was his voice
I wasn’t going to hear much
longer, our arguing would stop,
the declarations of maybe love
would wither like buds snapping
the unfairness of spring freeze.
The bagboys bricked the bottoms
of bags with cans of peas, and the sloe-
eyed checkers glanced over cruelly
believing they heard a man cooing
into the pay phone’s black handle
and a woman pronged on two legs
beside him wanting to tear
his throat like a dog that would
later be locked in a cage and a note
appended to the wire sprigged
with scratched-off hair, the days
to check off before the gas chamber,
backing up a car to a hole with a tube
to blow the life out of everything,
odorless, colorless, prescience
of empty, empty years, collecting
cans to sell, after that first love
when I stupidly concluded
that nothing would come
between until I heard him
hum Happy Birthday and wink
a few words, marked syllables,
the ones that mean more than
anyone can believe unless
they’re piping out the wrong end
of a twisty cord or a tube, to you,
the words go, happy, happy, to you.




Lisa Lewis