Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 7: Melissa Huckabay

Tonight’s poem comes from my friend Melissa Huckabay.

There are so many things I miss from before the pandemic, but chief among these is Saturday morning writing dates at Panera. This tradition started at least a decade ago with my friend Sarah Warburton, and this practice expanded to include more people who came for a period of time before moving on to other things. Now it’s all done remotely, sprinting together and checking in with each other online. Although we no longer live in the same state, Sarah is still one of the most frequent Saturday morning writers. Melissa is one of those friends who joined the Panera group, and she soon became a real mainstay of the experience.

After the pandemic was well underway, Melissa moved away to attend a graduate program, but we still write together remotely now and then. I miss many things about life before covid, but definitely getting together in person on Saturday mornings is high on the list. We’ll get back there.

Thinking about life before all of this sometimes puts me in a nostalgic mood, but I also know that life after covid is managed can be just as good, even though it will be different. And all of this reminds me of one of Melissa’s poems, shared here tonight.

What Safety Felt Like at Eight Years Old

A row of pictures hung on my grandparents’ wall.
The owl with plaintive eyes watching,
a little girl holding a flower over her head,
the worn plaque with the Serenity Prayer
and an Irish Benediction.

At breakfast I would study the pictures, one at a time,
a tiny army of benevolent reassurances
that cast the room in a golden glow.

My grandmother made biscuits with honey,
and the sweet warmth trickled down my throat
softly, like the footfalls of a deer
or the morning song of the doves
that gathered on the backyard fence.

Light streamed in from the glass patio doors
while pale, yellow lamps added
their steady gleam from the den.

In the quiet, hearing only doves
and the clink of forks at the kitchen table,

I sat and watched the pictures, knowing me,
a regiment of protection against the outside.

***

Melissa Huckabay is a poet and multi-genre writer whose work has appeared in Defunkt Magazine, The Remembered Arts Journal, and The Inkling. Her short fiction won the 2019 Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize from Spider Road Press, and her short plays have been produced at several stages in Houston. A former high school teacher, Melissa is a first-year MFA candidate in poetry at Texas State University.

Poem-A-Day: Melissa Huckabay

Tonight I’m featuring a poem by Melissa Huckabay that speaks to the contradiction of Houston summers, and while it is not yet summer now, we have this same sense of limbo now under stay-at-home orders.

And my cats are my office patronuses, sometimes jumping onto my desk while I’m Zooming a class, prancing in the camera for my students. I think they like it? I know it greatly entertains me.

The first time I encountered the word ailuromancy was in Erin Morgenstern’s book The Night Circus, which you all should read as soon as you’ve finished reading Melissa’s wonderful poem.

 

Ailuromancy, or Divination Using Cats

When the cat washes her ears, it’s time for rain.
I hear the patter of child feet and

droplets, five-year-old boy-limbs rattling
against the walls and leaking roof.

In Houston summers, we have no choice:
Either it’s the hot, impudent sun,

stretching its arched back, each vertebra taking
more space, or it’s the rain wringing us

out, bathing our lazy, sultry afternoons
like a scorching washcloth or a cat’s rough tongue.

The jailed animal of the boy’s body must break free.

He is fearless—the sun might turn his shoulders
a willful red, he might pant like a

sweltering dog-mouth, but he will run with no thought
of banged shins or scarlet ears or wet shirts.

I watch the squinting cat—dreading the heat,
praying for rain, but not too much.

She closes painted-yellow eyes and buries
her nose in fur. The sky is blue, unforgiving,

so I opt, for now, for wily shins,
restless legs ricocheting, the hum of a TV,

the dim living room’s solid, closed door.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Melissa Huckabay is a Houston-area teacher, poet, fiction writer, and playwright. Her poetry has been featured in Remembered Arts Journal and The Inkling, and her short plays have appeared on several stages in Houston. A University of Texas at Austin honors graduate, Melissa has taught high-school and middle-school English and also worked as a writer in residence for Writers in the Schools. Before becoming a teacher, Melissa was an award-winning journalist and public-relations writer. When she’s not writing, Melissa is a mom, an actress, and a musician who believes in the power of the arts to change the world.