Carolina clay

Illustration of a white magnolia blossom, 1731. Courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

Our house leaned and pitched in strong winds. The tin roof
a watering can for black snakes wintering in the attic;

the kitchen ceiling had one-tile-in-from-the-wall painted
for ten years, a racing stripe for our speedy remodeling.

The well water turned brown when it rained; Mom made koolaid
in fruit punch or grape to quell our suspicion. Twenty years later,

when we finally moved, the well was condemned, declared unfit
for human consumption
, and that was the punch line

to the World’s Funniest Joke; we laughed for days. And still,
I remember standing in sneakers over the furnace grate

on cold January mornings, smelling rubber adhering to metal,
air billowing up my holly hobby nightgown, making a warm tent

I inhabited; the song of approaching rain dancing tin roof jigs;
the fascination of bouncing ceilings as someone crossed

the upstairs floor. Fringed with peonies and hydrangeas,
sways and leanings made a mansion in maple, magnolia

more alive than any sturdier structure.

Ruth Dickey is a writer whose poems and essays have appeared widely, including in Alimentum, The Baltimore Review, Ocean State Review, The Potomac Review, and the Sonora Review. She lives in Seattle where she is the executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures.
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