I wonder how many lies you can fit in a mason jar.
I wonder if you’ve ever tried to count how many you’ve watched me fill, spinning molded glass with my broken teeth. Because I can’t remember all the times I thought I was so convincing. Hold them tight, two hands full at a time, in those fingers you never thought quite as pretty. A jar of teardrop firefly wings has never felt so heavy in the palms. And I don’t know how to take the weight back.
Mamma, you should have never named me noble.
You know, you don’t hear all too often about support groups for pathological liars. And maybe it’s because there’s no way of knowing if the 12-step program really worked. Lies slip butter-like off the tongue, taste like back ally I love yous and leave residue guilt on the roof of your mouth. There’s no polygraph test to etch needle marks onto stamped and weighted paper. And us liars don’t know phrases like congratulations; you’ve earned the right to let people trust you.
Trust, Mamma has always been our tipping point. We fall over cracks in storylines and scrape our knees on upturned roots. Mamma, I’ve never been able to walk straight through forests. My lies scrape against hollowed out insides trying to salvage meaning, hope and what it was like to speak fullness. My chest is concave tree, hard, with a wooden throat that can only speak ghost echoes of a dead voice box.
Mamma you’ve swept my broken shards under hardwood boards and stained carpet tiles so many times I’ve grown accustomed to walking on floors made of cut glass. Arches and bone bleeding I wrapped my toes in stubborn pride to avoid stepping on the self-mutilation.
But these heels have long since callused and this glass doesn’t cut as deep. So put the broom down Mamma and instead, hang these wounded statements above my head like mason jar mobiles so every time I look up to god I can see the glass bottom of every mistake I’ve made.
Breathe, child. Breathe. That’s what you used to tell me when the weight got too heavy. Breathe, child. Breathe. That’s what you used to say when my fingers slipped on the boulders in my chest.
Mamma you didn’t raise a liar, just a daughter who swallows sweaty palms and spits them back up as poems.
So shake these jars off your back, and one by one I will shatter glass mortar to prove I am not a con artist, just a broken promise trying to be whole again, mending old wounds with filth in my bones.
Liar, liar pants on fire, Mamma I don’t know how to say sorry without burning.
I wish I could say baby like my grandmother.
Thick thighs in front of the oven, pies the result of heavy working arms, I learned how to cook sitting on her lap.
See, my grandmother’s soul traveled where her battered knees couldn’t take her – into the freezer, up over the stovetop burners into frying pans and pots. She could make water boil without using her legs, so now the only way I know how to make string beans and mashed potatoes is resting on my backside.
Good food meant I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until everything was gone.
This is how I learned to clean my plate.
Liz Hampton smelled like cheap lavender. Not the kind found in pretty bottles at department stores or boutique windows meant for the wives of rich husbands. No, hers came unmarked, thick and pungent. A heavy lotion in a short, round, off-purple-colored case with a silver top screwed on so tight you needed the Lord’s hands to loosen the lid.
I wonder if my father ever found those containers in that clear box under her bed. Ready for a use that never came one Sunday morning, cluttered with cerulean clips to hide the bald patches and broken pieces of hot combs. The smell of burning still wafting, fresh on their teeth the screams, squirms and calls upon Jesus to make the pain stop.
This is how I learned to be beautiful.
Some people say home is where you lay your hat. But with Miss Liz, it seamed more often than not that hearts should be placed on heads instead because see my grandmother’s home thumped alongside the beat of God’s drum. Low and soulful her chest pumped holy work songs to rhythm footsteps as the almighty pulled trains over far away tracks to the Promise Land.
This is how I learned to pray.
At times I find myself scanning my reflection for the traits strangers say we share, but it never seems as if her teeth smile back. So instead, I peak beneath my lungs. Diaphragm rising I find her there bearing the weight of my inhales. She promises never to hold my breath and tells me go on and speak child; we’ve come too far to be quiet.
This is how I learned to be loud.
Fifth grade is apparently too young to go to funerals so I never saw the church roof sway after they lowered her into the ground. And sometimes I sing Amazing Grace in the shower so I can pretend I held hands with blood and faith family as we opened our throats to saline tributes.
I don’t have the money for brown sugar or sweet potatoes and Sundays are now reserved for lazy limbs and farmers markets. But, when I walk past lavender bushels I see project housing and a motorized wheelchair. I see arms strong enough to hold up babies and bibles, but thick legs too weak to walk into kitchens. I see cooking lessons and a righteous jaw line.
Adele Hampton is a storyteller, poet, and lover of mason jars, with roots planted in Washington, DC. She has performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is a Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam finalist. She is featured in the anthologies We Will Be Shelter (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry (Lowbrow Press, 2013). She was a member of the 2013 Beltway Poetry Slam team and is the 2016 BBC Slam Champion.