- Author: Sandra Beasley
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Made to Explode
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For the grandmothers
LONG JOHN SILVER’S
WINTZELL’S OYSTER HOUSE
WE GOT AN A—
BLACK DEATH SPECTACLE
THE SNIPER DANCE
CHERRY TREE REBELLION
PIGS IN SPACE
STILL LIFE WITH SEX
WINTER GARDEN PHOTOGRAPH
IN PRAISE OF PINTOS
LITTLE LOVE POEM
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE
CUSTOMER SERVICE IS
SAY THE WORD
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH GEORGE CATLIN
BASS PRO SHOPS
NON-COMMISSIONED: A QUARTET
Made to Explode
Lo, twelve children born to a woman named Thankful
in Nampa, by the border between Oregon
and Idaho, or as it will be remembered: Ore-Ida.
Lo, two of her sons drive to Miami
not knowing if their plan will work.
Lo, what were once waste scraps fed to the cows
now repackaged—the fry shavings sliced, spiced, and oiled.
Lo, a chef at the Fountainebleau takes the bribe.
Lo, Tater Tots are dished onto the tables
of the 1954 National Potato Convention and soon,
enshrined in the freezers of America. Three decades later,
the golden age of my childhood is a foil-lined tray
plattered with Ore-Ida product, maybe salt, maybe
nothing but hot anticipation of my fingertips.
Lo, my mother is a great cook and Lo,
my grandmother is a terrible one, but on tinfoil plains
they are equal. I need you to understand
why my father will never enjoy an heirloom tomato
glistening, layered in basil. Put away your Brandywines,
your Cherokee Purples, your Green Zebras.
Lo, as with spinach, as with olives, he tastes only
the claustrophobia his mother unleashed from cans
to feed four children on a budget. We talk little of this.
Lo, what is cooked to mush.
Lo, what is peppered to ash. Lo, the flavor
rendered as morning chore—that this, too, is a form of love.
On the Route 7 strip,
next to the office supply store,
next to the pool supply store,
next to the Tower Records,
next to the T.J. Maxx,
the Ranger Surplus lurked
where I shopped only
at the edges: iron-on patches,
vintage plate pin-ups,
never venturing into the groin
of camouflage and camping gear,
until I began buying weapons
including a mace, a chained flail,
several throwing stars, and the book
Contemporary Surveillance Techniques,
with its cover art showing a man
crouched in a stereo speaker,
all gifts for my father,
because what do you get the man
who has everything—and by everything
I mean a large-caliber shell casing
upright and decorative
in the living room, where you might
expect a potted ficus to be—
and these, too,
were the years he gave me
T-shirt after T-shirt, souvenirs
of every posting and deployment,
including the one that said
Hard Rock Cafe Baghdad—
Closed—Kuwait, Now Reopening—
T-shirts that fit poorly
over my new breasts, boxy,
unflattering, and so I shut them
away in drawers again
and again, each of us
trying to say to the other
I see you,
the way a blindfolded man
takes the tail into his hands, believing
from this he can see the elephant.
LONG JOHN SILVER’S
Once again at the Long John Silver’s of 1988
the rope-slung walkway seems to sway under my feet
as I look up at the Cape Cod with its steepled roof,
trimmed in yellow, and lean my whole weight
to the wrought-iron sword that serves as a door handle.
At the counter, I order a fish fillet
served in a folded paper Treasure Chest with
a handful of fries to hide the Secret Compartment;
hold the hush puppies, corn cob on the side.
I carry the blue plastic tray with care to a booth
paneled in the mahogany of an officer’s quarters,
then sit on a bench vinyled like a nautical flag.
The batter is always fluffy with club soda
and here, no one has died yet.
My teeth cut a smile into the Icelandic cod,
and perhaps I will go back to order a chicken plank
or a tray of crunchies swept from fryer’s belly,
which they will give me for free.
When I look back on all that I’ve done, I want
to be the person stubborn enough to found a chain
of Seafood Shoppes in Lexington, Kentucky,
five hundred miles from any ocean,
named for a character in a Scottish novel.
I want to admit I’m doubled over and howling,
yet reach up to ring the Captain’s Bell on my way out.
Fireflies, Col. Glenn calls them—
banging the capsule’s wall to prove
their movement. This
will be the gesture Hollywood
claims as history—how space
dazzles even the seasoned airman,
maddens like Titania’s touch.
The movie version sees
what he sees: Florida yawn, Delta yawp,
a sunrise inside every hour,
lightning over the Indian Ocean.
Yet the operatic soundtrack, paced
in gilded silence, is not what he hears.
Wonder-ese is not the language
he speaks. For this,
we turn to the transcript. Pilot
to Cap Com; Cap Com to Pilot.
This is Friendship 7, going to manual.
Ah, Roger, Friendship 7.
Pilot, Texas Cap Com, Cape Canaveral.
Cap Coms chiming in from Canary,
Canton, Hawaii, Zanzibar, India,
Woomera: every visual check
on the gyros, inverter temp,
every correction to pitch and yaw,
fuel, oxygen, Ah, Roger, Ah, Over.
Say again your instructions please.
Over. Do you read? Stand by.
You can be honest. This
is Godspeed-less, workaday chatter.
But in these pages
my grandfather lives forever—
a Navy captain charged
with Glenn’s vitals, stretching
his stethoscope across 162 miles
and eighteen tracking stations.
I hear him in each pressure check.
I see him biting his lip,
leaning toward a bank of dials
while the retropackage breaks, burns.
No one knows if the heat shield
will hold. Captain Pruett
goes unnamed. This
is how history claims us:
not in the gesture of one but
in the conversation of many,
the talk that gets the job done.
We climb into the syrup-can capsule
to circle the Earth three times.
The miraculous swarm,
we will realize,
is condensation. The light
blinks at us,
flake and ice of our own breath.
WINTZELL’S OYSTER HOUSE
Before six seats and a trough of oysters,
before J. Oliver slathers the wall in homespun,
Charles W. Peters sells squash here, and canned beans;
he sells bed frames & dressers & side tables;
insurance against rising waters;
he sells whatever will send nine daughters and sons
through college. In 1891, a Black man
can build two stories of clapboard for $2,000,
can aspire to his own furniture company,
can preside over the Mutual Aid