The house was made of large, smooth stones
moved years ago by someone unknown,
maybe from the creek out back which snaked
through an Appalachian patch of bamboo.
So much energy went into the outside
that the floor joists gave way long before
they should've. For three months I lived
with J and C, man and wife. My upstairs room
a windowed alcove with racks of C’s thrift store
clothes and a transistor radio. No cells, no TV.
For entertainment we had skunkweed,
a porch swing, books, a garden.
At least twice a month the pump broke,
leaving us grimy and irritable.
I earned my keep by pulling lettuce, spinach,
squash, cooking biscuits from scratch.
Me with my silly make-up bag and hairdryer,
C with her clear skin and braided mane.
We'd sit on the porch, talk about building
a greenhouse, which never got further
than a dark womb in the earth.
On weekends people appeared—
C’s brothers and sisters, or Ed, the neighbor
with the yard full of cars. He was 50, yet had
the slim, tight body of a knife-carrying teen.
His wife, pregnant and smoking, mostly silent.
On Sundays, after everyone wandered
home, C would open the windows
while the sun played on the scratched
wood and Ella's voice filled the room.
I followed that voice to the center of myself,
oblivious to the sinking floor, the wasps nesting
in the corner of the ceiling.
Standing behind her you may be tricked
thinking she is 16, all tiny in her snug jeans
and pink hoodie, but something gives her away—
the rounded shoulders, the brittle blonde
with black roots. When she turns to face you
while waiting in line at the Dixie Quick
there’s no doubt she’s long past Sweet Sixteen,
if she ever had one. One son dead, the other in jail.
Three husbands later she owns a double-wide
and the best view in the county, Double Knob
in plain sight from her bay window. As the sun sets
she sits in her plastic Adirondack, taps ashes
into a beer can and talks on her cell
as red bleeds down past the horizon.
Rosemary Royston’s chapbook Splitting the Soil is forthcoming in early 2012 by Redneck Press. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and is a lecturer at Young Harris College. Rosemary’s poetry has been published in journals such as The Comstock Review, Main Street Rag, Coal Hill Review, FutureCycle, and Alehouse. Her essays on writing poetry are included in Women and Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women Poets, McFarland. She was the recipient of the 2010 Literal Latte Food Verse Award. She currently serves as the Program Coördinator for the North Carolina Writers Network-West.