Wednesday 2 June 2021



by Pauletta Hansel

My mother said
she never asked again
who her oldest brother’s
father was.
Granny didn’t want
to talk about it.
That’s all we needed
to know.
So I made stories
in my head
of someone kinder
than my grandpa,
his lips not folded thin 
inside a nighttime scruff
of peppered gray.
I wanted that comfort for her,
if not in life, in memory
of a silken tangle of flesh
hidden between
tall rows of corn
back in Virginia
where her people stayed.
She never went back home,
not even after Grandpa died,
and finally she cut off
her waist-length hair, let her
daughter give her a home perm,
soft curls around her neck.
Years later,
almost everybody dead,
a cousin told me.
That old story.
A widowed father
grizzling himself
into his daughter’s bed.
Her name was Etta.
Before I knew her, ten children
had torn through that secret place
her father had claimed.

* * * * *

“Story” was published first in Change Seven and is part of Pauletta’s forthcoming collection, Heartbreak Tree.

Pauletta Hansel’s eighth poetry collection is Friend, epistolary poems written in the early days of the pandemic; her writing has been featured in Oxford AmericanRattle, Appalachian Journal, Still: The Journal and One (Jacar Press)among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018), and is past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.

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