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M. V. Montgomery

 

Odd's Country
I. The Alligator Queen

Under a bridge in New Orleans, I discovered a discarded stack of old tapestries. One caught my eye and I pulled it out. It was a strange print featuring stylized alligators floating over a design of bright scales and Mardi-Gras colors.

Is that the one I wanted? a homeless man standing nearby asked. But I gleaned the subtext of his remark: he was trying to scavenge anything of potential value himself. So I ignored him, draped the hanging over my shoulder, and walked away.

Somehow, I got sidetracked on my way back to my hotel. The street tapered into a narrow walkway leading me up to some not-so-nice tenements.

Through one window, I saw a man in a tank-top t-shirt appraising a headless mannequin affectionately. Then the door to a second apartment opened suddenly and a large woman spilled out. She was only partially clothed.

She saw the tapestry I was holding, and giggling, snatched it away. She bent over and draped the cloth over her head. I began to protest until she straightened up.

The transformation was startling. The tapestry fit her like a robe, and rather well—the scales neatly encasing her breasts, and the reptilian golds and greens making her look like comic-book royalty.

I am the Alligator Queen, she announced, dramatically. Both of us stood there transfixed for several seconds. Then from within, a man’s voice rumbled.

Still enrobed, the woman spun around, laughed again, and pulled the door closed behind her.

 

II. Friends of the Bride

While ushering at a childhood friend’s wedding, I found myself on the periphery of several conversations.

I had been forewarned that some of the bride’s single friends might be interested in talking to me. Unfortunately, this meant that they weren’t shy about approaching me with lots of extra requests.

One asked about facilities for kids and then introduced me to her daughter, a blonde girl of perhaps three who looked a bit too old to be coddled and put on display as “cute.” She had a petulant look and a prominent button nose that looked almost irresistible to “beep” with the end of your finger. Go ahead, her mother said.

Later, I saw the same girl sitting with her father at a banquet table with the woman nowhere in sight. Had she actually borrowed someone else’s kid? I wondered.

Then another friend of the bride’s approached me with a baby stroller to disassemble. Her infant was irritable, and I could tell he needed to be put down for a nap, so I led her to a bedroom in the house. Once there, she tried to get me to stay and chat.

I managed to return outside, where I noticed the tray from the baby stroller leaning against the wall with no sign of the carriage and seat.

I walked past the line of tables, searching, while guests held up glasses for refills or asked me to check on the music.

A third friend of the bride’s, a little intoxicated, motioned to me to join her in the line.

But just then I spotted the baby carriage near a table. An elderly man was sitting in it, looking completely disoriented. His caretaker, an adult daughter, was sitting next to him busily eating both their dinners.

When I approached to ask her about the baby carriage, she instead reached under the table and handed me an enormous pile of papers and soiled linens.

I’ll have more for you in a minute, she said. Her father, still unconscious, made a little gurgling noise.

 

III. The Lost Swedes

I was just about to put the car away after checking my mail at the end of the driveway when three hikers tumbled in. They were Swedish tourists just passing through. They had read about a dinner special in town featuring two-dollar steaks and were so wildly enthusiastic I felt obligated to drive them there.

I’ll admit, I was somewhat dubious. We’re just a small Southern county: here we have catfish barbeques in cafeterias with real flies. So I couldn’t help wondering if the group had gotten its tourist brochures for different places mixed up.

We pulled over at an information kiosk just past the “Welcome to Vegas, Georgia” sign. I pulled some old maps I had out of the glove compartment, although there had been so much new construction in the county recently that I told the young woman they probably weren’t much good. She and her companions all had beautiful eyes.

They unfolded out of the back seat and headed over to study the kiosk.

After a fruitless search, during which they queried quite a few confused passers-by for information, the lost Swedes tromped dejectedly back to the car.

 

IV. Dancin’ Borges

My poetry class was overcrowded. It was the week of midterms, and where had all these students suddenly come from? Did they truly expect to be able to pass the class when joining it so late?

Not only this, but there was a sort of gallery of adult visitors who sat in coats on chair-desks against the far wall. All told, there must have been thirty people in the room. My class was capped at twelve.

But the hour had begun and I knew it was not wise to hold court on student excuses now, so I simply invited everyone to stay and pass out copies of poems if they had them. To my regular students, I apologized, We’ll have to share.

One student stood up and said she was just joining the class after getting out of prison. (Excellent excuse, I couldn’t help thinking.) She gestured to one of the women seated in the gallery on the other side of the room and waved, That’s my parole officer.

The grim woman didn’t acknowledge her.

The prisoner-poet was a bundle of energy. She was a wiry brunette, a few years older than most of the others.

Though I discouraged students from prefacing their poems with a narrative, she told the story of how she had come to be sent to prison (aggravated assault, argument over a boyfriend). She had one day discovered poetry in the library there. Or rather, she had found a treasury of best-loved verses, had then practiced rhyming herself until she got better at it. She apologized that she was so nervous but really really hoped we would like her poem.

At least, that is a précis of what she said.

After her painful recitation had finished, a few of my regular students did their best to be polite. Jarold tried to express a positive point about one phrase. Oh thanks, I just love that—I just love men! she bubbled to him.

Kaylee automatically started to disagree with Jarold, but when the expression on the poet’s face darkened, Kaylee ended her sentence with “…or not.

I wrapped up the ensuing discussion as quickly as I could, skipping the question-and-answer period, then asked for another volunteer.

The next student was a Kellie Pickler-lookalike who might have missed class due to too many parties. She seemed slightly intoxicated as she stood up to read her short poem in her Southern twang. From the peanut gallery, three of her sorority sisters applauded.

The student hadn’t made copies and read the poem so quickly and in such a thick drawl it was difficult to follow. Something about sunbeams and dolphins and waves. Yet no one wished to be thought of being unable to understand her accent. Just to be polite, Raven, my best student, said that she enjoyed the sun, too. But the sorority poet had placed her head down on her desk.

Suddenly one elderly woman stood up and said that she hadn’t brought in any work of her own, but if Raven could help her pull up her favorite poem on the Internet, she’d read it.

The woman marched up to the front of the class before I could say a word, and we all waited a few awkward moments while Raven signed on her laptop. Eventually, we heard this woman’s forceful recitation of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

The hour was waning, mercifully, when the next student got up to recite a poem. She introduced herself as Mariella from Argentina. I say recited—but half-sung is more like it. She actually sashayed down the aisle of the classroom!

Her poem was in Spanish, of course. Most of my class found it indecipherable but nevertheless enjoyed the performance. We’d never had a moment in class quite like this.

I caught little more than the refrain myself. It sounded like Borges, Borges, Borges. Roughly translated, it might have meant, Borges, Borges, Borges / King of the Dance!

After Mariella had bowed to her audience and sat down, I couldn’t help asking her if the Borges referred to in her poem was Jorge Luis Borges, and if so, what was his connection to dance?

Mariella shook her head. She didn’t understand English.

From the other side of the classroom, a woman arose. She was wearing a heavy coat and said she was Mariella’s mother.

I asked if she could translate my question for Mariella and repeated it for her. Who is the Borges of the poem? I asked.

A rapid-fire exchange between Mariella and her mother carried us almost to the end of the hour. We all waited. Finally, the woman turned back to the class and shrugged.

She say, it’s not poetry if you have to explain it.

 

 

 

M.V. Montgomery is the author of two recent books of fiction, Dream Koans (Fast Forward Press) and Antigravitas (Thumbscrews Press). Contact author.

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