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"In my poem 'Mississippi: Origins' anecdotal fragments—sharp and sweet, poignant and stark—combine to create a locus for the family lyric. And that dried up rattlesnake rattle (which my mother declined to make into a baby rattle) definitely ranks as one of my family’s stranger heirlooms. That and the pair of brass knuckles my white-haired great-aunts, Mary and Joanna, kept in their shared house, in case they were called upon to punch potential burglars in the face. And the skull fragment from medical school my other grandfather, L.C., used as an ashtray. We’re a well-adjusted bunch."
—Anna Journey

Mississippi: Origins

Anna Journey

My parents come from a place where all the houses stop
at one story

for the heat. Where every porch—front
and back—simmers in black screens that sieve

mosquitoes from our blood. Where everyone knows
there’s only one kind of tea:

served sweet. The first time my father
introduced my mother to his parents,

his mother made my mother change
the bed sheets in the guest room. She’d believed it

a gesture of intimacy. My grandmother
saved lavender hotel soaps and lotions

to wrap and mail as gifts at Christmas. My grandfather
once shot the head off a rattlesnake

in the gravel driveway of the house he built
in Greenwood. He gave the dry rattle to my mother

the same week I was born, saying, Why don’t you
make something out of it.

Copyright © 2013 by Anna Journey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 17, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Anna Journey

Anna Journey is the author of Vulgar Remedies: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

by this poet

     The cracking sound above the Freud sisters
is the royal guard shooting black clouds
     brimming with hailstones over the Thames.

From the terrace, Anna taps the glowing throat
     of a cigarette into her father's skull
he saved from medical school. We are all

     emptied, she thinks. Salvador is late