10 Ways to Get to Chattanooga’s National Cemetery
i. Cross Holtzclaw, pass the tracks, the gravel lot attended only by concrete blocks, a blue hatchback, the back half of a truck squatting between two oaks, as if the owner thought he had nothing left to carry.
ii. If it’s cold the night before, burrow under a hill of quilts. Stay just this side of warm to dream you’re in some auditorium with dream friends, carrying all the suitcases.
iii. Catch up with a friend and her losses: a baby. Her eyesight for a few days last week. And for a few moments of summer last year, her son and husband, sucked into the ocean, dashed against the rocks as she stood there watching, waiting to see if they would resurface.
iv. Among all the scrawled Beloveds, recognize the line It is Well With My Soul: a British minister’s wife and daughters go down in the Atlantic. With one telegram, he loses them all to a cold god, like Job.
v. Watch the white-haired man
stand by the white stone, alone.
Wrestle your urge to
ask, to stand by him. Watch him
blow his stiff hands, also stone.
vi. Dream of your aunt, first to go, but slowly, her body shriveled to metaphor: it happens in a bed, it happens when you smoke cigarettes, it happens even when you go back to church, it leaves cousins to wedge into the last inch of your parents’ attention, like socks in a suitcase corner.
vii. Count the years (ten) your grandmother waited for it, grandpa long gone. They’d found him past the live oaks in his neighbor’s field with a tiller, one hand gripping his shirt pocket for pills.
viii. Did I mention the minister’s wife was reclaimed by a passing ship? Her name was Anna, meaning “God has favored me.”
ix. If the flag atop the hill waves at half mast, ask a caretaker. Learn there was a recent burial, that you have misread as history the white stones dotting the field like braille, the codes we make of loss. They are instead like the dominoes your own son lines up to topple, to watch its physics, what any minute might give way.
x. Notice the adjacent lot: blue graffitied warehouse, lone caboose, stray terrier scurrying down the road—the palpable fallacy. One sign proclaims they’ll rebuild the whole abandoned block and call it Lucey Quarter, inviting light, this time, to stay.
I give my five-year-old a book of facts on tornadoes
Joe-plin M.O. has the most tornadoes.The purple dots are tornadoes. She tells grandma, Joe-plin M.O.
has lots of tornadoes. Asks me, Have you seen a tornado? No, never. They live on the prairie, wild things
that kick up tumbleweed and debris. She tells the dinner guest Joe-plin M.O. is where the tornadoes live,
they kick up debris like herds of ponies. Asks from the backseat What is tornado season? pictures them collecting on the deck, like winter white, like fallen leaves, like pollen greening everything in spring.
If the clouds are sickly green, it’s a danger sign.A sign a tornado is near is debris,
from the French debrisier, it’s what can bruise you: pieces of wood, yield signs.
The S is silent, like awe. It’s objects falling like leaves, or rain. She collects
storm axioms: Don’t open windows, don’t get in cars. Lie in a ditch,
unless it’s raining. Make yourself the smallest possible target. A tornado will suck up a whole pond of frogs, rain them down on a nearby town,
which makes her laugh: frog rain! What is tornado season?
It’s the weather coming for us. Is there a season for the world
to end, the way jonquils poke accusing fingers from the dirt
in spring? Snails are vanishing in Hawaii, firefly flames snuffing out all over the South, coastal mangroves
receding, lizards in the gum swamp churning out fewer
and fewer females. When the frogs fell on Pharoah,
he wouldn’t yield, said instead NO, NO, NO. In Joe-plin M.O.,
people were sucked through the windows of the hospital,
became debris, they fell like rain, like yield signs,
like frogs. Things made into rain that are not made
for rain. Target trash turned to shrapnel.
Don’t open windows, don’t lie in a ditch.
The bathtub is the safest place. The strongest
will flatten all the trees in a forest. The book shows
a bathroom surrounded by debris, you can still see
a pink flower on one yellow bedroom wall.
She sucks her thumb, strokes my hem.
Tonight before bed she’ll kiss me in her ritual
of kisses: lips, cheek, other cheek,
forehead, nose, then say
I hope you don’t die,
on the lintel. We read the chances of meeting a tornado are the same as being struck by lightning, or eaten by a shark. So now the cloud is raining sharks, shark debris: teeth, blood and little fish. She tells me she dreamed we took the bird and the bunnies down to the basement, and we were safe. When is tornado season? The weather will come for us in spring. She asks are tornadoes real? She drifts to sleep thinking I am the smallest possible target.
Firework Display Subtext —July 3, Kennesaw, Georgia
Bless this land, its hallowed, bloody field. Bless the dead, the ones who gave it to us, the ones who die daily to keep me stockpiled and blessed. Yes, bless and bulwark us against the dark precarious. Bless them in the dirt, whatever can bless the dead, the inert. If I say it tisking open my Pabst, won’t that make it worth it? Bless our Buc-ees, all our Dollar Generals, their ranks of goods, our dollars churning out machines, bless our whole machine churning out loss, like popcorn. Bless our sky of colored light, whole sky of smoke, of microwave popcorn.
Elizabeth Cranford Garcia’s work has or will appear in journals such as Tar River Poetry, Chautauqua, Cider Press Review, Portland Review, CALYX, Tinderbox Poetry, Dialogist, SoFloPoJo, Mom Egg Review, and Anti-Heroin Chic. She is the recipient of the 2022 Banyan Poetry Prize and three Pushcart nominations, serves as the current Poetry Editor for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, a Georgia native and mother of three. Read more of her work at elizabethcgarcia.wordpress.com.