Tar Baby

If I don't answer the phone, by all means,
keep calling until I pick up.
A light touch was never something you understood.

As my phone makes its missed-call chime again and again,
I think of something I haven't thought of in years.
Tar Baby didn't have to do anything but show up and sit there,
to drive Brer Rabbit nuts.
The more Brer Rabbit tried to fight,
the more stuck he got, as I recall.

The youngest in the house by a decade,
I was an ace scavenger.
One of my favorite things was the box of old 78's
that I could play on the big cabinet record player.
The radio part had never worked, that I could remember,
but how I loved to put a record on that soft old turntable
and set the needle down so I could listen.

Little Orley,
Song Of The South,
and all the others left behind by children no longer children,
could fill an afternoon for me, 
and I loved nothing better than to sing along! And dance!

Along you'd come, saying here, take some of this.
It's good for you.
Pretty soon I couldn't stay awake,
asleep among my records on the floor.
I didn't know then, about codeine,
but it sure could shut a kid up for a few hours, I bet.

Once, I woke up around dinner time to find my dad sitting by the bed,
watching me, looking worried.
Overdosed me, didn't you?
Didn't count on me still being out when he got home.
There was no more take-this-its-good-for-you after that.

The chime on my phone goes off again.
Missed call.
You'd like me to talk to you now, now that I'm out of reach,
but it's too late, Tar Baby--
I learned the way to stay unstuck
is to give you a wide berth,
stay alert,
and sing for myself if I damn well want to.

for Kerry's flashback moment at Real Toads


TexWisGirl said…
hallelujah to the survivor.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
I so know the feeling of setting that needle down onto the LP.......I sang too - which was not highly enjoyed by my mother - the codeine dosing is horrible. I always really feel these poems about childhood, Shay. I sure felt this one.
Susie Clevenger said…
Oh my, this stirs in me my own wounded child cry...thanks for having the strength to share something so painful...and being a survivor
cosmos cami said…
The conversations you have with no-one-there in your poems are stellar. I love coming back here to see what's new from you.
Kathryn Dyche said…
I had to smile at Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby, I'd completely forgotten about them until I saw that picture and then it brought memories flooding back. Then the smile was knocked off my face with the codeine dosing and my heart ached. The way you write is incredible.
Sioux Roslawski said…
Autobiographical? A little vignette from your past?

If not, I bow down twice to you. Once, for writing something so rich with memories and fierceness. Twice, for writing something that is so spot-on but not true.
hedgewitch said…
Yes, having a child doing child things was a terrible inconvenience for some people--one wonders why they chose to have them. That 'perfect mother' identity, I guess, went over well with the peer group--just don't look too close. I am proud of you for learning how to get away from the Tar Baby--it's very easy to get stuck forever.Besides the story, which is bloodcurdling, Shay, the writing here is stark and sure.
Anonymous said…
This is just horribly painful, I found. The move to the codeine and the images that come up quite subtle really, and then the pain sticks. k.
Kerry O'Connor said…
I can so relate to the record player, and the stories with songs (and Tinkerbell's little bell to tell you when to turn the page) which were so much a part of my childhood too. Brer Rabbit and de tar baby was one of my favourites. It struck me as so clever from both sides, the scam and the escape.. and you have captured something of that in more than technicolor reality in the story behind the story. I felt quite gutted as I read, but cheered at the end, to see Brer Rabbit outwitted the tar baby once again.
Marian said…
oh, argh. this is so painful. stay alert, indeed.
All praise to you for surviving and thriving. What a harrowing story.
Jennifer Wagner said…
A damaged, demented, sad person to do such a thing to a child. I love it when kids sing and dance, they're meant to do it! Turn it up, Shay!
Helen said…
Cheers to you for writing so bravely, eloquently (beautifully) about something so dark, dangerous and devious. Back in the day I knew mothers (and fathers) who routinely gave their little kids cough medicine with codeine and actually bragged about it!
Susan said…
Dxmn! This is a magnificent capture of pain and abuse. What was so hard about watching a little one enjoy? I have figured out the answer to it in my own life. My "cure" was the same as in the poem--lots of distance, geographical and every other kind. I love your use of Tar Baby here which brings in race and class as well.
G-Man said…
I had that record.
And Aladin and his Magic Lamp!
Loved your story
Mark Kerstetter said…
Damn spooky, to think of a father drugging his kid. Never saw Tar Baby, feel like I missed out.
Fireblossom said…
To Mark K. ^^^^

My father would never have done anything like that. It was him who put a STOP to it.

mac said…
As sad as I am that a child suffered like this, I am just as amazed to see how beautiful that soul became.

Thank you, Shay.
Anonymous said…
well, fuck! don't we jus' know how mama gets... best stay clear and let that missed call alert chime all it wants.