Saturday, April 6, 2013


Image © 2013 Jennifer Wagner

She grew up in Nixa,
barefoot, hay in her hair,
with a penchant for buttermilk
and married men.

Now I ain’t excusin’ nobody,
ain't judgin’neither,
just tellin’ it how it was
there in the sweltering heat of a late-July June.

She drove a charcoal-painted Mercury Comet
with a side window
busted out.  Never fixed it,
said it was because she liked the sound
of the thunder rain coming through,
like horse hooves,
at full gallop.

A tube of lipstick in a gaudy orange-pink shade,
rolled around on the dash,
its contents melting in the sizzling sun.
One time, as I sat shotgun and bumping along dirt roads,
the smell of the sweet, warm earth in our noses,
I asked her why she kept it there—
the rattle of it being a continual poke to the nerves.

She said it was on account of how it reminded her
of the dog who’d  bitten her and blotted out all her suns.
I always thought it was a joke I never understood,
but would
when I hit that magic year
when things adults said became clear.

She always drove barefoot,
tossing her boots in the backseat,
and pulling her flowered country dress up
while slipping down on the pedals,
a jar of sweet tea between her knees.

The winds of change were coming,
she’d say, and get that far-away look
like she’d seen her last blue Missouri moon.

The day she burned out,
I’d felt it. 
Like being stranded
in a float tube on winter’s river.

She’d gone to Springfield to catch a glimpse of her little boy
playing in someone else’s backyard.
A woman came out and was applying a Band-aid to his knee,
he’d called her ‘Mama’.
And that’s how one word can break your heart.

When we knew she’d met the fate of comets,
I ran to my room to bleed myself onto paper;
to write dreams of life lived violently, cursedly, and then
of green grass and white daisies,
and things that never end.

And to cry.

She’d left the lipstick tube for me,
on my scarred wooden white-painted dresser,
with her empty jar,
and 3 sets of  Newberry’s dime store earrings
in the shape of mini stars, moons, and daisies.
I drank the tea in 3 gulps,
slid the tube in my pocket,
stuck the star-shaped earrings through the holes in my lobes;

and then with all the voice I could muster,
I vowed to keep my sky,
that no dog would blot my suns,
and that he’d have to kill me
he could ever take my heart.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Wagner


  1. dang...tight story....i really like her, you gave us much of the totem of the lipstick and its meaning...and the jar of tea, details....really cool write...ugh how heart breaking as well seeing her kid...

  2. What a story, captivated from the first line. "he'd called her "mama" and that's how one word can break your heart" wow! "I ran to bleed myself onto paper" couldn't think of a better way to describe writing
    about heartbreak. Amazing, Jennifer, you've done it again.

  3. How amazing...I couldn't tear my eyes away. Love ~ When we knew she’d met the fate of comets....And to cry. These two lines are it for me. beautifully written.

  4. Powerful love story, indeed. Excellent write.

  5. The way you've created so much from little things in this poem is wonderful - the woman's life from the car, the impact of the word 'Mama', the lipstick.

    A great poem. I enjoyed it very much.

  6. from that first stanza I was hooked. The story telling is great, the details spot on, the poetry sustained. Great piece.

  7. Wow, draw the readers in with your character and keep them hooked all the way to the end. In the middle, when she saw her son, my heart dropped into my stomach, as she realized what she'd lost. "She'd met the fate of comets" -- gut-wrenching. And, oh those star-shaped earrings. An absolutely WONDERFUL read this morning.

  8. Chilling. But absolutely amazing poem. I'm a cynic, but this brought tears to my eyes.

  9. This is stunning! You are a wonderful story teller. I could not wait to read the next line and the next.

  10. I like how you used the old Comet car together with the celestial metaphor.

    It's true; nothing has the power to devastate like seeing or hearing something you believe is yours alone being done or said for someone else. It's horrible.

  11. The fate of comets...that line hit me like a ton of bricks. What an amazing tale...

  12. A beautifully narrated story ~ I like how you painted her character, rich, colorful as her lipstick and bold as the comet car ~ A treat to read this morning ~

  13. Very much like a country song of love lost, regrets and life's turns. Imagery is wonderful. I quite enjoyed the read, though a sad story.

  14. This is great, excellent. This would make a great book.

  15. lotsof neat details - pretty cool

  16. Fantastic story - "and that's how one word can break your heart". So powerful. The punch of a novel in a poem. Great write, kiddo!

  17. I agree that the narrative aspect really drives this forward. Also felt the lyrical nature of country music in this. Wonderful writing Jennifer.

  18. Two great characters emerge here, my favorite being the one who vows to keep her sky.

  19. This provoked a rush a memories from me...this woman was a woman named Joan

    I absolutely loved every word of this

  20. You tell her true and make sure the reader understands. An epic tale condensed into a poem. Strong and tight.

  21. From the first line to the last, I cared about her! You drew me in to the story and held me there until the ending! Nicely done!

  22. Beautifully scripted to capture the ethos of a tragic 20th century North American female archetypal character that all of us can relate to and many of us have known. Lovely story telling.

  23. This is a beautiful poem and story. I may think of her on and off today.

  24. a touching emotional story beautifully written in verses captivating the readers from the start to the end.personification of the fate of comet & the scene of mom &son was piercing the heart..Jennifer a superb story teller.GOD<3U

  25. oh, i loved the voice in this, and those last lines especially! what a story, and exquisitely told.

  26. Don't exactly know why I picked this as the first piece to read from the poets united site. But after having read it I immediately joined . . . thinking I have a long way to go to even approach this level of quality!

  27. What a wonderful poem! What a wonderful story!f

  28. The only reason I am not requesting this for my 'I Wish I'd Written This' spot is that it's already getting the exposure it deserves.


Thank you for your thoughts!