Mom and I stand on Bradenton Beach.
The waves ripple over our feet like little hands,
and she tells me about her summers
growing up on the gulf with her Uncle Bebe
who had Daisy Duck tattooed on his calf,
and about his brother-in-law Booker
and how her Aunt Ada searched for sand
in the kitchen with her bare feet while
her Aunt Jenn paced the coastline when the uncles
were late coming home from fishing.
She told me how Aunt Ada and Aunt Jenn
never went into the water, but instead
sat on the porch with mason jars
of iced tea, perspiration beading like rain.
They’d told Mom the unbroken
sand dollar she found was magic
because it came from the dark ocean floor,
a place where no woman could ever walk.
II. Said Uncle Bebe to My Pre-Adolescent Mother:
Let me tell you, Jennifer Anne, about
The Woman of the Bay of Mobile.
She comes up from the ocean
during storms—after the waves
are big enough to tip the jon boats—
walking on water like Jesus Christ himself.
Booker told me his daddy told him
The Woman of the Bay of Mobile
was a dead Spaniard’s pregnant wife.
Booker said she drowned during a shipwreck
before Alabama was a state. Still searching,
now she comes up with the salt wind during storms.
And Jennifer Anne, I wanted to know why
Booker was telling me this about ladies
and ghosts when neither of them have a place
on our boats. He said he thought I should know
whether I wanted them in my bay or not,
they were already here.
III. Casting Nets
In high school, Mom brought Dad to the bay.
She told him how one morning,
on her way to cast the nets with Uncle Bebe
and Uncle Wayne, she found the sand dollar
whole and hidden in the shadows
of the gray sunrise. She left it
in the sea grass growing
at the foot of the dunes by their trailer.
All morning, she’d cast the nets
until her jaw was sore from holding
the gray metal ring between her teeth,
and her uncles praised her deft movements:
just like a man’s.
When the boat was full of fish, they went home
and she found the sand dollar
where she left it, took it back up to the house
and laid it on her still flat chest
while she waited to fall asleep.
This year, she was ready to show Dad
everything she knew about fishing and casting
and foraging on the coast, but this time
the uncles wouldn’t take her. If she was old enough
for a man, that made her a woman.
Women didn’t cast nets.
Then she became my mother,
and at three, I held the sand dollar to my ear,
wanted to know why the warm star wouldn’t sing
to me like the other shells did.
She said on the trip to the beach
holes had been poked like little eyes
at the hands and feet of the star.
She said these holes let the song out.
IV. A Love Story
When my mother tells me the legend of
The Woman of the Bay of Mobile, she says
she doesn’t think the ghost woman searches
for her husband, but her unborn daughter.
Aunt Aida and Aunt Jenn let that slip one morning,
after the uncles had left, like it was some great secret.
And here is the strangeness of it: Mom and I stand
on Bradenton Beach, miles from where she became
a woman that summer with her aunts and uncles,
but we still look at the same ocean. I think,
as she bends over the shallow water and
scoops up shells brought new from the waves,
her voice conversational, the ghost woman
a mere fact, that this too is a love story:
a woman and her belly. What grew
behind the ghost woman’s navel was brewed
by wind and sun, seasoned by white sand and weaved
from her hair, still glossy with salt water.
Tayler Klein, a Montessori school teacher, received her MA in Creative Writing from Pittsburg State University in 2014. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Nimrod International Journal, Analecta, Lalitamba, Inscape, Glassworks, and The Midwest Quarterly. Tayler lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband, her dog, and shelves full of books.
Stephen Meats, recently retired from teaching and administration at Pittsburg State University, is the author of a mixed genre collection of poems and stories, Dark Dove Descending and Other Parables (Mammoth Publications, 2013) and a collection of poems, Looking for the Pale Eagle (Woodley Press, 1993; expanded edition, Mammoth Publications, 2014). His poems, stories, and scholarly writings have appeared in numerous print and online publications, including more than two dozen articles on Whitman, Faulkner, and other writers in The Literary Encyclopedia. He has been poetry editor of The Midwest Quarterly since 1985. For his guest editorship, in addition to poems with Kansas associations, he asked contributors to submit work dealing with shore birds and water birds, if moved to do so, in recognition of his and his wife Ann’s recent move to Florida.