South Mason Street, 1976
My mother’s first name was dammittohell.
Her middle was Pearl.
She filled afternoons with Winston 100s,
South Pacific, & Carousel,
singing the female leads to her vacuum.
My father came home from General Electric
& closed the garage door behind him
spending his evenings with chisel & saw,
cutting joints to lock wood at right angles,
setting them with the force of a vise.
I’d pedal from Bloomington Jr. High
to the pond at the end of the street,
traded cigarettes stolen from mom
for Hustler pages from Doug next door.
Dinners were quiet & short.
I cleaned the table & rinsed the plates
while he went back to his shop or Miller’s Tap,
& she sat by herself on the porch.
He kept his bench swept of sawdust,
polished his plate with a fistful of bread,
wiped his ’66 Coronet’s blue vinyl seats
clear of late night semen & sweat.
She folded my clothes in squares
& stacked them in boxes from Kroger,
filling the back of her Pinto.
One weekend a month I joined him
in his shop, building tables
to bring other families together,
beds for sleep & for love.
First appeared in San Pedro River Review
Robert Lee Kendrick is a poet and teacher in Clemson, South Carolina. He grew up in Illinois and Iowa, spending his teens and twenties playing guitar and songwriting in punk rock bands. After attending the University of Iowa, he earned an M.A. in English from Illinois State University in 1993, and a Ph.D. (18th Century British Literature) from the University of South Carolina in 1998. After coming to an end with graduate school, he returned to music, performing throughout the southeast as an Americana singer-songwriter, while holding down jobs as a grocery store worker, house painter, and line cook.
After marriage, he settled into teaching high school English. He began writing poetry late -- in his mid-forties -- when he was assigned creative writing classes at my school. Thanks to a few very skilled and generous mentors, he's been published in such journals as Tar River Poetry, Louisiana Literature, South Carolina Review, Kestrel, The James Dickey Review, San Pedro River Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and The Main Street Rag. In 2016 Main Street Rag Publishing released his chapbook, Winter Skin.
When not teaching, reading or writing, he races bicycles, still plays guitar (rather badly), and obsesses about Iowa Hawkeye basketball.