Goodness in Mississippi

—After Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,”
    with thanks to Terrance Hayes

 

My friend said I wasn’t fat but she was, and we

would go on that way, back and forth. She was my first real 

 

friend, the kind who changes everything. Her mother was so cool,

didn’t shave down there for the country club pool where we

 

sat beside her. I saw a gleam of her secret, silver hair and was left

dreaming of lime floating in a clear drink. I started saying hi at school

 

and people smiled back. Smile first, my friend said, and we

were a team. The cheerleaders who would always lurk

 

by the field, showing off their muscled legs—of late

I’ d hardly noticed them. We talked about art, we

 

attended science camp in Gulfport. That’s where her mother got struck

by a car the next year. She must have thrown the new baby straight

 

as a football to save her. Their family was on vacation, and we

found out at Sunday School, waiting for the choir to sing.

 

She was so good she comforted me. People saying, “It’s just a sin,”

her mom like Snow White under glass, red lipstick, platinum hair we

 

knew was genetic. You’ll still look young, I said. I think you’re thin. 

We’ d skip lunch, drink Sego (“good for your ego”). Last year I drank gin

 

and called her ex. “She passed,” he drawled, like it was the weather. We

tried powdered donuts with the Sego, sweated to the Beatles and jazz.

 

Her whole life was beginning. We moved away from there one June,

Mississippi tight-mouthed as a lid on fig preserves. And we—

 

we white girls—knew nothing. The fire-bombed store, the owner who died

for paying his friends’ poll taxes. Anorexia would be famous soon.

 

LaWanda Walters is the author of a forthcoming book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, selected by Pamela Uschuk and William Pitt Root for the Silver Concho Series at Press 53. Her “Goodness in Mississippi,” originally published in The Georgia Review (Winter 2013) was chosen by Sherman Alexie for Best American Poetry 2015.