Vox Populi

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Michael Simms: Mary Jo and Aline

I want to say something but shame
prevents me

yet if you had a desire for good or beautiful things
and your tongue were not concocting some evil to say,
shame would not hold down your eyes
but rather you would speak about what is just 
― Sappho  

Mornings they loved best
sitting over long breakfast
light slanting over them
Mary Jo sharing bits of news
Aline listening adoring 
the sounds of birdsong
they were partners selling
real estate in southwest Houston
during the go-go years 
Mary Jo always said 
sell the house to the woman
financing to the man
and shy Aline in charge
of paperwork a perfect team
perfect partners they’d met
at Baylor fell in love
reading Sappho and Millay
said goodbye at graduation
and as they thought of it
started their lives Mary Jo
became a stewardess for Pan Am
considered a romantic profession
for a woman in those days
and Aline married
Dick a seminary student at Baylor

After years of hiding
they grew careless 
Aline’s husband Dick by then
part-time preacher full-time slumlord 
caught them eating berries in bed

Last time I talked with Aline 
we sat in Starbucks 
looking across the highway once a country road 
where Westheimer Baptist Church stood 
small wooden frame painted white 
with a simple steeple double red door 
a pulpit where Uncle Earl 
roared his sermons and 
Aline played the organ
behind the church now gone 
I kissed my first girl whose name 
I can’t remember the church 
torn down years ago 
now national boutiques 
selling lipstick and bikinis 
Aline says far away 
Mary Jo was the great love 
of my life we would’ve done 
anything to stay together 

For the sin of love
they sacrificed everything 
Uncle Earl shamed them 
from the pulpit the organ 
was taken from Aileen
the music of prayer 
no longer flowed from 
her hands and Mary Jo
lost her family even
her grandchildren were taken
she died asking to see them

I wonder what it’s like 
to throw everything you have
in the bonfire of no regrets
and hearing my thoughts 
Aline says when she first saw 
Mary Jo she couldn’t speak 
as if my tongue was broken 
and a soft flame 
stole beneath my flesh 

Note: the epigraph is from Anne Carson’s translation If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Vintage, 2003).The last three lines are from a fragment by Sappho found on the website Cosi’s Odyssey, translator unknown.

Copyright 2022 Michael Simms. First published in Live Encounters, edited by Mark Ulyseas.

Michael Simms’s two most recent collections of poetry are American Ash and Nightjar both published by Ragged Sky Press. His novel Bicycles of the Gods is scheduled to be released in August 2022 by Madville.

14 comments on “Michael Simms: Mary Jo and Aline

  1. Gerald Fleming
    June 19, 2022

    Really like this, Michael. Berries in bed an image that sustains throughout.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sean Sexton
    June 18, 2022

    Crosses so many forbidden thresholds and today, this world! Hard to peacefully place oneself in any white-steepled edifice . I am trying to be more attentive to God’s first language (which I don’t believe to be English), but perhaps silence.
    Best to you this summer,

    Thankyou Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  3. enkayrn
    June 18, 2022

    For the sin of love they sacrificed everything.
    Can’t get these words out of my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      June 18, 2022

      Thanks, Nancy. Yes, my aunt Mary Jo was a gifted and warm-hearted woman. If she’d been born to a later generation, life would have almost certainly been easier for her.


      Liked by 1 person

  4. edisonmarshalljenningsgmailcom
    June 18, 2022

    Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kim4true
    June 18, 2022

    … and she died asking to see her grandchildren.
    It’s beautiful, Michael. And sad. Makes me regret all over things we as humans are capable of doing to people we loved just a day before. (I grew up just off Westheimer Road, by the way.)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. rhass1
    June 18, 2022

    Stunning Poem, Michael. This one’s a gut puncher.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John Tieman
    June 18, 2022

    Beautiful. Beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

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