Bossier Parish

by Rachel Richardson

Can anyone tell me
what happened to the cracks on the sidewalk
from the air conditioner’s drip

or the air conditioner itself,
Mr. Thompson stooping to turn it on
every evening at 5:15

whose cursing I heard
all the way from the street?

Where are the women
leaning on the building for cool,

the beautiful shoulders of the youngest,
the brass of her laugh

and the neon sign for Coffee Bait & Beer

the Buick rolling up the road,
its silver wheels

the man with one leg
shorter than the other

the stack of gas bills

the orange hat Gerald wore

the oak’s side crusted with sap . . . .

There is no ledger
for the groans from the house on the corner

and the way they sidled out to the porch after
with one glass of sweet tea between them—

the stack of water bills

the warped card table Mrs. Gallagher left out
in case people came to call

the wooden chair

a scratching under the house

the box of ornaments
under the eaves

the antique piano Lena played, humming
Is you is or is you ain’t
my baby?

They are like clouds passing over—

some mornings I wake emptied

longing for her shoulders,
the wounded oak still

RACHEL RICHARDSON’s poems have appeared in the New England Review, Southern Review, Slate, Ninth Letter, Memorious, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. A recent Stegner Fellow, she has led poetry workshops in prisons, elementary schools, and universities, and currently teaches at UNC Chapel Hill.

“Portrait of Britney Spears, Kentwood, Louisiana, 1996” was originally published by Southern Review in Volume 44, Number 2, Spring 2008.