"Ode" by James Kimbrell

James Kimbrell

James Kimbrell

James Kimbrell is the author of The Gatehouse Heaven (Sarabande, 1998) and My Psychic (Sarabande, 2006). He has been the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, Poetry magazine's Bess Hokin Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, and fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Bread Loaf Anthology of New American Poets, American Poetry: The Next Generation, and Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century. He teaches at Florida State University.


Where is she now, Ms. Audrey N, last spoken to with no flies on her lips, waiting for a hatchet? She climbed into her attic: it turned into a bedpan, turned into a casket.

How did she get unaccounted for? In the bottom quadrant of the spray painted “X,” designating number of bodies found, they sprayed a red Ø on her shotgun house.

Once there was a ladder taller than clouds, then came the help that never came, which Ms. Audrey did not catch on TV. Good job, Brownie. Good job, Whitey.

She must have sensed the buzzards in disorder, dead-dog stink of floodwall collapse, air hot enough to melt the wax off a Dixie cup. Hell will never burn the same

once Ms. Audrey, la grand dame of Levee Town, marches in just long enough to torch one ex-president. I would like to remember her only

in her café days, spray of faux diamonds embedded in the ruby-colored sides of her horn-rimmed glasses, her lipstick so precise that it might have been applied

by a Dutch Master with a mouse whisker across the smile of a ceramic doll,
but the flies of truth have to be fed, and the truth remains: Ms. Audrey is dead

no one knows where, only that she pulled down the attic stairs, called her sister, and waited while her roof became a tiny Algiers for the moccasins and alligators

that might or might not have been equally confused. Goodbye Ms. Audrey, who could forget your pies baked each day for thirty years, apples sliced napkin thin,

crust like a stack of candy wrappers, or your sparrow-light steps across the blue tile floor, the unstoppable array of your yellow and chartreuse and flower print

homemade dresses with their sequined borders, or the black pen that swung from a twist of yarn taped to the pad on which you took our endless orders.