Nature Like Mother is an Improper Name by Sue B. Walker
(Shilly Shalling Sin)
(A prose sestina*)
narrated by Sue B. Walker
Her body, thick and craving, a house, white bone house on the red-rutted road she never dreamed she would walk down, down past loblolly pines where, waiting, she would sometimes braid a bracelet of pinestraw flowers, flowers that would never bloom, those little curly nodes she’d wear on her wrist, her body housing a baby, yet unborn, there in the piney woods, backwoods hiding whiskey stills, where that drunkard, that married debt-stud daddy rode her like his mare when she walked into the woods, woods with flowering dogwood and yaupon to meet him, and if the child to be is a girl, she would name her Cassina, Ilex Cassine, or maybe Holly, and they would walk the red-rutted road together, mother and child, go deep, deep into the forest and play house like she used to do when she was a child living on the country road near Tuscaloosa and together they would name the trees, say longleaf, shortleaf, say pond pines, pines whose names were familiar friends: sand pines, pitch pines, slash pines, slash, slash, slashslashslash – and her wrist, she gentled it, but would she slash it, for it wouldn’t matter then, that red-rutted road in front of the run-down house where her own papa lived, where nothing could flower along any spite-filled house, house she’d leave, and walk, walk away, farther and farther away. Why is it she pines for the father of this child, when he says she has to give the babe away, and her mother had raised Billy Jean already, her babe named after his son by his wife, so she’d gone then to the House of Unwed Mothers, and birthed, and now she’s pregnant again, but would she slash her wrist and end this flowering, get off this road, road straight to hell, ‘cause the preacher said “sins find you out if you don’t walk the straight and narrow,” that lily-flowered path where pines look up to the heavens as she would do, look to the heavenly house, to the god-house, its wide doors wide open, house beside the gold-paved road where she would surely find Jesus, if only she would turn to Him, turn then, and walk with Him and talk with Him among palisadial pines and corn-stalk flowers and be delivered of sin.
*(The six sestina words: house, road, wood, walk, pines, flowers)
Sue B. Walker is the Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama and the Poet Laureate of Alabama from 2003-1012. She is the publisher of Negative Capability Press and the journal’s editor.