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  • She Swam on from Sea to Shine
  • Harryette Mullen (bio)

Hide and seek, where the tree decided to sleep was where she ran. She ran away with a ruckus. The baby girl was stolen by a tipsy woman came to take her. Where they found her in the mud. She’d stolen a doll. Her doll got sick, she died. The brown doll from her father. The pink doll came from somewhere else. She had drowsy eyes like marbles. The rabbit was painted on the furniture in the room with pom-pom curtains. The pig slept at her grandmother’s. The pig that ate money, not the country pig that ate molasses and sunglasses. Where her mother kept a canoe and paddle. Where stiff lace stood, in the city not the country, where they fed their stinky sheep. Paper shell pecans, climb high. Sweet figs and green plums in forbidden backyards.

She remembers sleeping on a train. She remembers a long sleep, rocking, rocking. She had her dress on all the way. Asleep, diving into dreams. Salty and warm, like ocean, like broth. Another time she slept, she dreamed of rats. When she woke up, the kittens were all killed. We’re in a photograph with a handsome man smiling. Seersucker suits are what to wear in summer. That other man I don’t remember, the one who made your hair fall. That’s when the doctor said you need a root. You need your roots. You need another doctor who knows roots and will root for you. That’s how we all got better. That’s how we got to all your exes live in Texas. All the livelong day with the cowgirl you left behind.

Those saxophone streets and scratchy sidewalks. Those baptist conventions. That steamy summer. The boy who threw tar on me. The boy who made me his tar baby. The one who broke my watch, knocked me down, pushed me over. The boy who threw rocks at me. The boy who lost his foot under the wheels of a train. The boy who bought me ice cream. The girl who was my friend. The girl who wanted to give me a kitten. The girl with burnt hair. The girl whose house was dark. The girl who never wore socks. The girl who said, “Poot on you.” I had a ribbon in my hair. I was too proper and prissy. I must think I’m something. I must think she’s nothing.

In the beginning, we stay with the preacher. We sit sweating on the mercy seat. We hear the preacher shout. We feel the fire in this man who built the church that burned down. This preacher who read Nietzsche. This preacher who was a carpenter with bent nails, who was the father of the cowgirl, who ironed his handkerchiefs. The big man who cheered at wrestling matches, who drove a dark Chevy, who wore white shirts stiff from the laundry, who sang, “There was a crooked man, who had a crooked smile.” She recalls a sixpence, a pig, a crooked little stile. He knew a stile could get them over. He knew a thing or two, and so did the lady who made crab cakes. The lady [End Page 648] who fried scrapple. The lady with peach tree switches who knew that a spigot was a faucet. Her chaise longue, her porte-cochere, her chiffonier. She didn’t want the cowgirl to be a boll weevil. She wanted us where we were, not in the garage. She wanted us in the church where everyone shouted.

We started selling and counting. Anything from earthworms and bottles to paper shell pecans. She saved green stamps, and we ate pinto beans from dented cans. She found a house with bramble bushes. We found a lovely alley made dizzy circles. We found a house with attic rooms. A magic chef in the kitchen and a genie to keep it clean. We kept moving until we moved the neighbors out. They ran to Runaway Bay. They hid at Hideaway Lake. Those neighbors who were not neighborly, who didn’t want us for neighbors.

The nuns were smart teachers, but...