Terry J. England · Dirty

Trailer Trash

The Mustang is dead.
It won’t, won’t, won’t.
Its tires frown like old black-men
bedraggled, breathless, under its weight.
The cat full of kittens
claims the front seat.
Beneath the trailer’s belly
the neighbor’s dog sleeps,
and all the weeds
that anyone could ever want,
could ever want, grow ‘round,
give balance to cinder-cinder blocks.
The clothesline sways,
damp-dances wet sheets
while a Maytag clunks,
tugs on its umbilical cord.
The front door holds
its wide-open yawn
to pull in a breeze, to pull in
just enough children to fill up a couch.
Momma’s in the kitchen
humming a tune. Fatback and lima beans
simmer on her stove.
The TV’s waltz’n in and out,
in and out,
rabbit ears and aluminum
fixed to its head.
Then the dog begins to bark.
Daddy’s walked home
from the end of his day.
And doesn’t the trailer give rise to itself.
Momma smiles as her babies
crawl up his sleeve, tug at his legs.
Tired as he is, he gathers them close.
O how he loves
to see them all shine.

(Jane Davenport 1939-1979)

You and me in our old red Mustang,
tearing down some black, dirt road,
leaves flying,
radio screaming, you crying, me
drinking a chocolate milkshake.
Letter from daddy, wadded up,
thrown between us on the front seat,
I’ll send money when I can.
I’m the bullet flying from its gun,
the train slicing off its track.
I want to fly out of this car.
My fingers slow dance
with the door handle,
your hand gropes,
flings out our trash.
In a hurricane of beer cans,
wrappers, and fries
his letter catches, whips
behind our car. Beating the engine,
rattling my bones, your foot stomps
down on the accelerator.
My face hangs blasted
out the window. I’m breathing in,
sucking down. The straw
clenched between my teeth.


Me and my posse dogging
down Main, the noon whistle
about to blow.
I’m leading, hugging
through sharp turns. Foster Street
past Pearl then Elm. Bobbie
thinks he’s so smart, cuts short
takes off behind the drug store.
Brain dead. When I catch him
I’m going to bruise his head.
I’m sheriff. Pedaling hard, tossing
stones through broken windows.
Lynnette rides my left.
She smells like a flowered tree,
her grandma’s hand cream glistens
her arm. In the whole wide world
she’s my best friend.
She has no daddy, like me.
Sleepovers we share the same pillow,
I like to listen to her breathe.
Her sister Kathy rides third,
sweaty hair mopping her face, Mike
shadowing our lead.
The dirt path bleeds into the grove.
We break formation,
pull off in separate directions.
After lunch we’ll hook up
fill our afternoon laying pennies
on the tracks, or mending a wheel.
I look back, Bobbie’s catching up.
His bike’s trailing dust, his grin’s
untying my smile.


Momma and me are fishing.
Fishing on the bank
of the Indian River Canal.
I hold the pole,
she dips her fingers
into the Folgers coffee can,
grabs a black mess: handful of worms.
I want to go home.
It’s Saturday afternoon
and Dracula is on TV.
Momma is angry about men.
I watch her bait the hook, the worm
too dumb to know it’s ugly.
She says, Men are like water,
you hold them
in the hollow of your hands,
then they up and slip
between your fingers.
I look down at my feet,
nod my head, agree,
‘cause if I don’t
she’s gonna haul off
and crack me up-side the head.
‘Cause I’m no good at it,
I never cast out the line.
For a piece of time momma is quiet,
says, Affairs are like fish hooks,
easy to hook onto, hard to slip off.
When she reels in the line
that worm has slipped off.
I hope he is downriver.
I hope he can breathe,
make it to the ocean.

Sleepovers With Lynnette

After supper, after night settled
over the yard, fat moon hanging
from the shock of darkness,
we’d tip-toe from the house
lean my grandpa’s ladder against the garage,
climb, feet cautious of cracks and splinters.

The roof was a castle, or a ship, built
with every whispered secret: lipstick, boys.
Just the excitement
of spreading the blanket, stretching our bodies
someplace we shouldn’t be.

The old folks never knew. Knew or didn’t care.
They argued, slept. Television on, hearing–aids
off but whistling for attention.

Nights so big, the moon
full and swollen
filled the neighborhood with shadows.
Stars and more stars
falling, shooting
and once a satellite slowly blinking by.

Nights so hot we’d lift
our night-shirts to our necks, rub
each other’s chest and belly.
We were innocent like sunlight, prayer,
or something so tender it goes unnoticed.

Serious nights when hardly no one spoke,
Grandpa staggered home happy,
a possessed man dancing in the yard below us.
Grandma staring
from the front door window.

Shhh, no one sees us.

Ghostly night-shirts
holding our young bodies in.


I am rolled up tight
in this orange tree.

When I want to be
very quiet,
I put my hands over my mouth,
breathe in and out, in
and out through my nose.

My momma is raking leaves
across the backyard into
this summer evening.
She wears cut off blue jeans,
grandpa’s stained undershirt,
and a man’s plaid dress shirt
we bought at Woolworth’s.

From here,
I watch momma drag the rake
back and forth across the lawn.
Just once she will stop.
Just once she will look up,
smile at clouds or birds
or something that makes her face
look happy.

If she is, maybe tonight
she will read to me;
let me curl-up next to her
in the big bed. I can follow her finger
when she says the words.

I close my eyes tight,
put my hands across my lips, breathe
in and out, in and out.
I must be quiet.
So she won’t know.

For Uba Dearlove Tubb Smith

Grandma takes a rag
from underneath the sink,
mixes water, white-vinegar
into a pot, sets them to boil
on her kitchen stove.

Steam rises, settles on her skin,
smothers her glasses, sweats
her face. Her gnarled fingers
dunk the rag in water so hot
her knuckles turn an angry

From the kitchen table
I watch her hands snatch, turn back,
slap the rag
into her cast-iron sink;
scrub the inside,
around the drain, down
into its dark, black mouth.

I close my eyes.

The rag has hardly
time to cool.
She slides her fingers
back into the pot.


I am the nail
bent on breaking.
Momma sits,
her long legs curled
inside her dress. She’s a snail
stuck to our front steps
reading someone else’s news.
Grandpa tinkers
with his old Ford pickup,
a beer can wedged
next to his boots.
Grandma heads next door,
obliges a neighbor
with an apple pie.

The paper-boy and me
we are going at it
inch deep in wood chips,
his back sweat-wet.
Hands slide beneath my blouse,
sneaking to second, press me down.
I am tugging at his Levi’s snap.
His braces cut my bottom lip.

Grandma’s voice scratches,
clucks its way back
‘round the hedge, through the yard,
past the rhododendrons.

Up flies my 32 AA, Sears
and Roebuck bra, Winston’s head
is diving, his tongue searching,
his ink stained hands pitching
for third. My knees knock,
hands shake, fingers fumble.

Grandpa slams the mouth down
on his old Ford pickup.
Momma’s calling, calling
for me to get home.

Winston slips his hands
into my shorts,
pulls them down,
tugs at my panties.
Tools struggle for balance
on the shop wall;
motor oil and sawdust
fix to my skin. I’m the fuse
bent on catching.
The snap on Winston’s Levi’s
burns my fingers,
between my thighs
wood chips catch fire.

My Momma Raised A Fool

When I smell whiskey
on another man’s face
I think of you.
Truth is, I catch myself
trying to forget
that day we drank our lunch.
Our words on the edge
of a two-week acquaintance,
you showed me pictures
of your family back home,
while I clung to your smile
for dear life. Above the bar
a neon light winked on and off,
and a picture of Marilyn Monroe
struggled for balance.
We split the check,
swaggered half-drunk
onto Boylston Street. Composed
with civility we said good-bye,
but my head swam sideways,
and I slipped into you
like a shadow slips in shade.
Our lips barely touched.
Not a real kiss, not full
on the mouth or deep
enough to cause a rumor.
You never surrendered.
Just as quickly,
what I wanted pushed away,
my whole body beaten
by the slight frown
on your face. Breathe this;
how I felt at that moment,
wanting to die.
I knew my mistake
would carry you home
to your wife. I’m just sorry
you took so long to walk away.


Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following journals where some of these poems first appeared: Aura Literary Arts Review, AMMI Collaborative, Café Review, Caesure, Ceide Review, Comstock Review, Ordinary Time (special edition, Dedalus Press Ireland), Ibbetson Street Press, Intervention Magazine Online, Poetry Motel, Spare Change-Boston, and Sunscripts 2001.

This collection is © Terry J. England, 2002. All rights reserved.