I write where the rocks gather on the concrete steps leading down from the front door. Rocks that sparkle black and silver like they fell out of the sky. The sky rocks gather in between the porch boards and in the cracks of the concrete steps. They gather in the grass and in the joints of our front yard tree where the trunk splits so wide there’s space for me to sit, space for puddles of rain and rocks to gather.
I pull my dress hem straight out to fill it with rocks. I gather up the rocks, fold my dress in, carry them inside and drop them in old peanut butter jars while Dad unrolls the plastic wrap around little snakes of cocaine and flushes powder down the toilet, sliding his razors, needles, and pipes into the bathroom trash and telling me Don’t get into this, alright? Years later he and mom and whoever else would tell me that my Daddy flushed every bit of his drug habit the minute I was born so he could become a successful fire alarm salesman, but I crawled into the bathroom after everyone else was asleep to drop a couple rocks in the toilet and sneak a look over the edge of the trash can to memorize every edge, and I was at least three when he threw it away.
When Dad asks me, Did you clog up the toilet with those rocks? and I shake my head nun-uh Dad looks hard at me and says, When you lie, people forget how to believe you. Now get on. Go play.
I watch my bare dirty feet carry me past Dad where he stands shirtless in the kitchen dropping shrimp into a boiler pot. Past Dad and through the screen door, down the rotting wood steps, and into the mud of our back yard where my little brother, Ryan, sits scooping plants and dirt into a bowl of water. We call it pickle plant soup. Ryan claps his muddy hands dropping red and black and yellow dirt into the bowl, and the dirt swirls in the warm hose water. If this is really a bowl of trash instead of a delicious meal, if I really clogged the toilet rather than ditching my sky rocks just like Dad had, and if my stories were lies to Dad but true to me, then how will I find a way out from the mud and into his world? I crouch down in front of my brother and lift up the long, thin stem of a pickle plant – a clover-like weed that springs up all over the neighborhood. Like the rocks. I bite into the vinegar stem and let the sour fill up to the top of my mouth, and I know it is both – trash and food.
I write from the sour.
I write from the mud.
I write from the body of the shrimp cooked brighter. Pull the veins from its back. Suck the salt from its head.
I write from the suck before an afternoon storm. When the air’s so hot and full everyone says their head feels like a balloon or a bowl or an oven or a bomb. Anything filled up and ready. Then the suck. The heat pulls back. The rain tears through it.
I write from the hum of the oven vent sucking up smoke from cornbread dough rolled into balls, dropped into melted lard and fried in a cast iron pan.
Mamaws hands grab up the dough and spoon it down. Grease flicker. Her hands wipe the splatter off her forearms with a plaid kitchen towel. Her hands pull the towel open to wrap my belly, wet from the sprinklers. Her hands shimmy the towel down the sides of my legs.
I write from where the sun fries the sides of my feet as they slip off my flip-flops and brush the hot metal footrests of Dad’s Harley. Dad lifts me onto the back of his bike saying Grab on tight, and I curl my toes around the top of my flip-flops to hold them down harder. He locks a too-big helmet over my head and sits behind me, one arm around my belly, the other directing his bike across the back way, the dirt roads, to the river.
Dad parks his bike, lifts me off, pulls my t-shirt over my head, and rubs sunblock on my belly and arms. There’s a cottonmouth, he tells me while he smears a thumbfull of white cream across my forehead. I stand still, moving only my eyes to watch the snake head weaving a dent across the river a few feet away.
I write from Dad’s pontoon boat, my hand reaching down to touch the slippery back of a manatee rising up from the river, and what does the manatee do when a cottonmouth streams past it? Do cottonmouths even bite the slow grey creatures, or do they save their angry venom for humans alone, for strangers dipping into their liquid worlds?
I write from the bog sweat on our bellies and necks when Ryan and I chase each other from flowerbed to flowerbed in Mamaw’s backyard. When I step on the wrong little hill, fire ants swarm my ankle. They scatter up my leg biting little burns until I fall in the monkey grass, rolling and hollering while Ryan grabs the hose and Mamaw and Dad holler back, Get out of the monkey grass! There’s snakes you’ll get bit!
I write from the bite.
I write from the burn.
I write from the fireflies’ limp little bodies dumped out of my jar after just one night of light.
I write from the house fires I’m always watching, the videos Dad plays for the couples who folded their names into the WIN A FREE STEAK DINNER! box at the Winn-Dixie. Videos of burnt kids and burning curtains and families crawling out under tongues of black smoke. Families standing in their front yards, watching their burning houses. Dad standing in front of the couples, spreading out his fire alarms, smoke detectors, and solid wood fire bats.
I write from the house fire that sends bends of smoke down our street when the little green house on the corner turns black then grey then dissolves altogether and floats across our front porch. Small specks of white.
I write from the mouth of the yard. On my back, sinking down, mud deep. Watching squirrels shoot up Mamaw’s pear tree to fight over the acorns they saved from Daddy’s lawnmower. Our trash, their food.
I write from the pears half smashed and rotten and sinking into the mud right beside me. Mamaw’s hands when she picks the ripe pears off the bottom branches to keep them from rotting. She fills her apron with them, brings them into the sunroom, drops them into a basket for later.
I write from the first bite through pear skin, that first earthy sweet.
I write from that burning body. Four years old or seven years old or ten years old. Crawling out from under a fire. Crawling through mud and dry grass. Snacking on pickle plants. Smacking away palmetto bugs. Pushing fingers down past the hot top layer of wet sand, past the cool dark mud, down to the red clay, finding something to build with.