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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.

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 the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and from the National Endowment for the Arts. She’s an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California. 

by this poet

poem

for David

We imagine Natalie held a gelatinous green 
sliver on her tongue, that its watery 

disk caught the lamplight before 
she slipped from her yacht 

to drown in the waves off this island. This was
thirty years ago. And our tomato’s strain 

stretches back decades, to an heirloom seed