Betty May

I had a cousin named Betty May.

The joke punctuated the drama:

Betty May, but Barbara Will.

The sisters, born of red dirt and sand plums,

beautiful and young, so tan I would come home and

butter my body with handfuls of Crisco.

Their brown a true glistening bronze,

Shimmering like rugged angels.

They knew things that I didn’t, couldn’t.

They knew the feel of cotton bolls,

worn fingertips from the harried picking,

the respite—a glass of sweet tea in the shade.

Magic they made from burning leaves

and sharing words between one another,

perhaps truths? Who could tell.

They always won at Monopoly, all board games,

cheaters, snatching bologna from sandwiches.

And their future suicidal brother, Lord Bless Him.

We spent Fridays in that house screaming

You mother-fuckers owe me hotel money.

Pennies thrown from thread-bare pockets,

I remember those moments like yesterday,

even years later I was locked up in my own life

reading an article about one of their babies,

Daddy shook it cruel like an Oklahoma twister,

My heart broke and stomach– churned.

All those hot days and wistful summers

flooded back, my Monopoly shoe and hat

lost across America, the feeling of

pure hot shame, fury even,

I came to know much later in my life.

It flashed on Barbara’s face years before.

How could anyone have known?

Betty May, but Barbara Will,

yet no one ever asked me.

MELISSA WABNITZ PUMAYUGRA is a Texas writer and professor. She began her career as a small-town journalist and has recently dabbled in poetry, memoirs, and creative fiction. Her writing and photography can be found in Emergent Lit, Emerson Review, Roi Faineant Press, Vox Poetica, and in more. Follow her on twitter: Mel_the_puma.