Brandie Gray


I heard my mother in the kitchen drying out the darkness.
Rasheda White, “A Shadow Beehive”

She knew the back of my father’s hand
like a morning prayer—this is why she
served breakfast without saying grace.
After meals he threw her back into the cupboard
with all the chipped & dirty plates. I knew her
years of ache like she was the wrong kind of strong.
But I still think of her as possible. She became
a cheap motel vacancy sign with a bedside bible
heart—no one told her happiness can’t be found
on the back of cereal boxes or in tears over kitchen
sinks. I asked her once what love felt like. She said,
it’s a swollen lip teaching the body forgiveness.


When I meet my maker
I’ll tell him my mother tried

her damnedest & meant well
more times than I could count—

months behind on rent & late
on the electric—in & out of places:

the duplex in Southeast, a double-
wide down Jordantown Road,

in the neighborhood trap house
trailer, on a mattress in her boyfriend’s

basement. She spent nights silencing
cowboy killers in the empty spit-

swallow of Dr. Pepper cans
on a nightstand, where I watched

her powder her nose & chain
smoke in lipstick (kissing the mirror

all over) after asking what shirt
better showed her breasts before

a date. She always came home
smelling like a pool hall, stumbling

toward sex & more alcohol, but
my TV was never loud enough.

I’d rock & hum myself quiet in the early-
dark morning of my poor pretending,

like I haven’t spent most nights since
behind an eight ball or in bed with a woman

trying to find the wrong way to live
right, thinking I just might drive the distance

back to where shit went south. I want so much
to drift into the opposite lane & ride the other

side, to turn off the headlights, to trace
oncoming traffic until I decide to change

my mind—until nothing is absolute until
it is—until I decide. Dear Lord, I just might—

Brandie Gray is a third-year MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University where she currently serves as the lead associate editor emerita of Blackbird. She is a featured Blackbird editor in an online interview with The Review Review, and her work is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Sewanee Writers’ Conference MFA scholarship in poetry. Gray earned a BA in English and creative writing with a minor in communication studies from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.