The Mansions on Lake Martin
by Jessie Bennett
I didn’t know I had an accent till I heard the crazy way Maryland people talked.
When I moved North, I told all my new friends that my old house, back in Alexander City, Alabama,
had been a mansion.
Big and blue.
To match my eyes.
And it was surrounded by acres of fairy-filled enchanted forest.
That’s where they grow all the glitter for the rest of the world.
At my old house.
You should be jealous.
My birthplace was the most beautiful in the world.
I never noticed the decay on the double-wide mobile homes.
I would glide past the road kill armadillos,
straight to the ancient Dairy Cream Milk-Shake Shack.
The Piggly-Wiggly made perfect pimento cheese
and I had officially renamed Wal Mart, All Mart.
Cause you could find everything you’d ever want there.
I never knew we were poor till my new friends told me.
From then on, every year we went South to visit, I saw my mansion slowly shrink.
It was a modest single family rancher.
The blue had been an accident
and the enchanted forest was infested with rattlesnakes.
Glitter didn’t grow,
but ragweed did
and my fragile nose was now allergic.
I’d get hot and I’d get bored
and I’d often get angry at that tiny racist town and its crusty trim of rust red clay.
When I was 14,
I took my kid cousins sledding on the pine needles,
kneeling on old cardboard like I’d done when I thought the world ended past Atlanta.
Catherine slipped and we gave way to giggles.
I’m not a princess from a castle in the country,
but my baby cousin sounds like me when she laughs.
My uncle wears a cowboy hat when he naps
but he gave me my royal blue eyes.
He tells me I talk like a Yankee.
I’d like to imagine that if I’d never left,
I’d have spent my teenage years enjoying movies 6-weeks later than surrounding states.
That I’d have learned to sail like my mama
and snuck beer on the porch with my four-wheeling friends.
That I’d have been happy.
I live in a dirty, beautiful city up North
and I’m proud of things that might make my aunt cry;
I’m a vegetarian bisexual liberal and I date people I have no intention of marrying.
I spend my days talking about luxuries like art
and I dream that I’m not too small to save the world.
I heard the clothing factory that sustained Alex City has moved overseas.
That the old trailer park by the water is being knocked down
because outsiders have discovered how stunning Lake Martin is.
They’re building mansions.
Room after room that my relatives will never live in,
And I’m afraid for Catherine and Liz and Emma.
They’re chubby, soft, and sheltered,
and their dad runs the convenience store.
He stretches his dollars to send them to Catholic school 2 towns away
so the children with elevators in their houses won’t tell the girls they’re poor.
One day, there may be a college in town that they can never afford to attend.
My family is not poor.
We never were,
even when my grandma lived off turtle soup and her papa made moonshine.
We were simple and wise
and knew we never wanted to be too good to be happy.
Honest and shameless,
sipping Sam’s club soda crowded around the kitchen fan.
The house wasn’t meant to turn blue,
but it still matches our eyes.
I’ll teach my cousins that,
even grown in the shadows of sanctuaries to the God’s of greed,
they’re still beautiful.
The forests may not be filled with diamonds
but dollar-store glitter shines just the same.
You can be worldly and restless and move to Manhattan,
or stay where you’ve always been.
But never be silenced when they say your accent is silly,
your family is not poor.