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BIRCH STREET: 1960 / Jeanie Thompson A woman was always singing in that house and we played a game called "Mother" at the Pugh's across the street. I was oldest, had to be "it." My duties were: scold Barbara, caress Bev and Amy, keep house, keep peace, like a real mother. We drew the world's boundaries — kitchen, child's room, door. A woman was always singing — the real house, not the make-believe one where I was too unsure to carry a tune. A woman's voice singing cool songs with confidence was always there. Sometimes it came from the kitchen, sometimes, the phonograph. I couldn't tell the difference, so when I heard the voice, I believed it was you, your cigarette burning in the ashtray while you buttered bread, sliced roast beef for our sandwiches, poured milk—small green mugs for us, little girls playing house. Today I put on EUa Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, sat in the rocker and listened. I wanted to hear you. I thought I might smell Bev's clean, powdery smell, my "daughter" who has her own baby now, who doesn't remember, she's told me, living in the house, no childhood more special than any other. When I read favorite books sometimes I find my comments in the margins, "important," a lone initial "T," or a passage in brackets that once explained me to myself. Reading today, I erased what I found, wanting the book clean. 28 · The Missouri Review AT THE WHEELER WILDLIFE REFUGE / Jeanie Thompson i. The Observation Building The little girl in line for the telescope says, "Look! Them birds are black pepper!" and turns, grinning, surprised at herself. Beyond the wall of glass, the flock rises to light across the bare river bank. "That bird's crazy," someone whispers. But the sparrow hawk is dancing in place 50 yards up, wings beating as if its power draws nothing from the earth. For a second its wings flash open, stilled, then it dances again and falls from sight. ii. Walking the Trail Winter wheat, rabbit tobacco, sorghum dried to a dark rattle. Harvest of sparse color in a dry wind. And thorns low on the ground, a network of warning. Beyond this miniature trail, cornfields spread green in winter grass. I stop walking to face the far-off, solid stand of pines. I tilt my head back: the air is sweet. Closing my eyes, I breathe again, there's no other word, so I lay my head back, breathing as deep as a blue-tick hound when the scent floods past rank and scared for life. When I leave this place I'll take the fourlane cutting through the backwater. What tells me I'm alive is impossible, useless to carry away. The Missouri Review · 29 ...


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