A Day With Brody

After Brody jumps in the back seat, over the console and arm rest, and onto the front seat, I settle in behind the wheel of my car, an SUV, new enough that it shouldn’t be used for gallivanting through the countryside, down dirt roads, into the woods with low-hanging limbs and brush growing over dirt paths, but it’s the only vehicle I have on this particular day. It will have to do. I adjust a few nobs on the dashboard and the folksy sound of Lynn Miles fills the air.

Tapping out the rhythm of the music on the steering wheel, I leave Tifton. The South has opened up to Spring, and the feeling of rebirth has settled in my joints, in my heart, soaked through all my senses, and intoxicated me. I sip from the season like it’s a mason jar filled with peach moonshine. Brody sticks his head out the window, and I turn the music up loud. Tongue hanging red and limp from his mouth, his body shaking with excitement as he pants, my dog delights in this ride that takes us into the boonies. He is my buddy.

I park near the Willacoochee River, not far from a country church, behind some of my kin’s land, a place where my family went for picnics and swims in the 1960s, a place where we used to fish, a land and river I instinctively know through faded memories, scents, sounds, and stories told to me by my older brother and sister.

Brody leaps from the car and in an instant goes to chasing smells. I watch him go, then I walk to the water’s edge, crouch down, dip my hand in the dark river broth, whispering to reflections, fishing for memories. If not for the sounds Brody makes, I would be knee-deep in silence. The land and water change with each slant of light. Everything here pulses with beauty. The river and the trees are one. I see life reflected in the water, trees dripping with green, dripping with birds, dripping with my distorted face. April has settled over this place and colored it in a thousand shades of green. It is as though Monet and van Gogh have been painting all winter for this one day. Later, I will go home, pull out my oil paints, and try to capture some of these magnificent greens on my pallet. But Nature is always the best artist. No human can compete.

I come here for the beauty. I come to soak myself in memories before they evaporate, so l can write about the days of my childhood and let my children hold those memories in their hands. I come to calm this knot in my stomach that has entangled me in doubts about Dogwood Blues, my first novel. I come here to be nothing more than a soft shadow among a deep and wide river of solitude. 

Written by Brenda Sutton Rose

Wooden bridge

Brody waits in the car for me to open the door and let him out.
in May 2015

DOGWOOD BLUES on Barnes & Noble

Brenda Sutton Rose
Nominated for a Georgia Author of the Year for First Novel
Nominated for a Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction

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Sleeping on Paul's Mattress

Sleeping on Paul's Mattress 
is a short story by Brenda Sutton Rose
originally published in Mobius: A Journal of Social Change

From my crouching position under the house, I watch a hearse back into the yard and stop right short of the front porch. It’s late in the day, and the sun is bleeding red across the sky as far as I can see. Four men with fleshy faces climb out of the limousine of death. They stand tall, stretch, straighten their ties, and flip dandruff from their dark suits. If you ask me, the city slickers look like white sugar frosting on a shit-pile. You can’t fancy up poverty like ours. No, you can’t color a share-cropper's house anything but ugly no matter how many polished shoes walk up its decaying steps.

As August breathes the god-awful stench of the outhouse up the noses of the funeral attendants, they scowl and exchange glances. The one with the greasy hair smirks. I'd like to knock the sneer off his face, all the way into Lowndes County. Another in the group shakes his head, checking the buttons to his suit coat. He breathes from his mouth and exhales through his nose. I know what the idiot's doing. He's by-God trying to filter the odor of poverty from his air space, as if he could simply adjust the way he breathes and perfume the air around him. Reckon he's never smelled shit in August before. If Paul could see these highfalutin men with their nostrils puckered up, lugging his coffin from a deluxe black car spiffed up with goddamn curtains in the windows, he’d howl with laughter. We'd hold our bellies and roll on the ground, and the laughter would hurt like hell.

Sweat oozing down their faces, the men heave Paul's casket from the rear of the hearse. Heat smothers the South in the summer, and, down here, some days we weep sweat like we're a bunch of sinners with the hottest seats in hell. Today's one of those days. Like I said, it's August, and we live inside a giant pressure cooker.

The ushers with blood-red faces move in unison, their feet shuffling in rhythm over dirt and rocks, aiming for the steps.

I move under the house to get a better view and count their paces. I tally with a rhythm, a short pause between each numeral. A-one and-a two-and-a three-and-a four.

The rotting porch-steps moan and sag in pain under their weight, and I wonder if the wood will hold. At one time this piece of shit we call home was used as a pack house for cured tobacco, and, until yesterday, a nicotine scent loomed in every corner. Today, the rooms reek with the sweetness of decay. I smell it from down here. A mixture of decomposition and shit, with the faintest hint of unanswered prayers.

The ushers take exactly thirty-three steps moving the coffin from the hearse to the front door, and when they reach their destination, they are panting and sweating like they’ve carried the load all the way from Jerusalem to Golgotha. They wouldn’t last an hour working beside Paul and me in the tobacco fields. These city folks know nothing about hard labor. They know nothing about poverty.

Through the gaps between the floorboards I can see straight up the preacher’s wife’s dress. If Paul were still alive, we'd check out the color of the panties. We'd search for pubic hair poking from the elastic around the crotch. I’ve got no stomach for spying on her now, though. The ache in my groin has traveled up to my heart. All I want is my brother with his hair shining copper and blond under the summer sun. I want to inhale his familiar earthy scent and touch his callused hands. But Paul's lying dead in the pine box that’s just arrived special delivery from the goddamn funeral home. Blew his brains out with a shotgun while the rest of us were working in the fields. My old man sent him home to refill the water jug, and he kept going. He didn't stop. He didn't turn around. Paul escaped from this hell. Stuck the barrel in his mouth and squeezed the trigger. Rigged it with tobacco twine on the bed we shared.

The old man dragged the bloodied mattress out behind the house yesterday and yelled at me to clean it. Said we couldn’t throw it away because we've got no money to buy another one. I washed that mattress until my hands were raw, sore, and shriveled, but Paul’s bloodstains wouldn't budge.

You can’t imagine what it’s like to watch your twin brother’s blood diluted with water, streaming pink through hands identical to his. You can't imagine what it's like to know the blood you're washing from a mattress is the last you'll ever see of your brother. I watched Paul's blood seep into the soil, lost forever. I counted into the thousands while I scrubbed. Twice, I lost count and started over at the number one. The mattress is leaned against the back fence drying. I expect it’ll be good and dry by tomorrow night if the weather holds.

From what I can tell from down here, it appears the preacher, who never laid eyes on us white trash until yesterday, hears the men from the funeral home on the porch. He turns toward the door, away from my old man sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, head in his hands, most likely dreaming of a drink, and my mother standing like a zombie in the opposite corner,  waiting for the dead body of her son, the oldest by ten minutes. Paul was always ahead of me, even in birth.

All four of the attendants, soaked and steaming from the workout of carrying the coffin up the steps, wait for somebody to hold the door open and let them in. The preacher takes his sweet time getting to the door, and like a damn fool, he invites the wilted men inside. “Won’t you please come in?”

Of course they’re coming in—they’ve got a dead body to deliver, you goddamn idiot.

A scream tangled inside my throat grows thicker by the minute. If it keeps swelling, this silent wound will choke me dead. I know like I know my own name that if God played fair my old man would be stretched out in that pine box, and Paul would be here with me. But nothing’s fair in life. Not a damn thing. My old man should've swallowed the barrel of that shotgun, and he should've done it long ago, before he dragged this family into the sewer with him. Of course he’d need a conscience in order to give us the gift of his death. If he ever had a conscience he strangled it in whisky before Paul and I were born. If I ever find my old man dead like I found Paul, don’t you believe for a second that I’ll waste my tears crying over him. Hell no. I'll lift my head to the heavens and thank God. I’ll cram the drunk's cold, intoxicated body in a coffin and toss as many whisky bottles as I can find on top of him. Then I’ll pour a pint over his corpse and stuff the empty bottleneck in his mouth like a pacifier. Marinate the old man in his own whisky before we bury him. But I don’t waste my time wishing for these fantasies to come true. Wishes are nothing but weeds of hope, and hope grows out of whisky-soaked lies. Hope is a liar and hope is a thief. Turn your head and hope will steal your brother. It will steal your life.

I crawl on my knees in the dirt under the house and follow the coffin through the gaps in the floors. Somebody moves the couch across the room and replaces it with a dolly on casters. The funeral attendants, the damn sissies,  heave Paul's coffin onto the dolly. My mama moans and I try not to hear her. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Shut the fuck up, Mama! Shut the fuck up!

As Mama's moaning turns into a long wail, the numbers come, swallowing me whole. I count, chanting numbers, filling my thoughts with numerals, because that’s what you learn to do when your old man beats you with a strap until you're blood-soaked and crying. That’s what you do when your old man crashes through the door with his breath reeking of whisky and the devil flapping on his back. That’s what you do when your mama is colorblind to the purple bruises on her boys’ bodies and blind to the scars carved in their young hearts. And that’s likely what my mama’s doing right now as she watches the men from the funeral home deliver her 13-year old son in a coffin. I bet she’s bleeding digits, maybe in multiples: two, four, six, eight, ten, and on and on, burying herself in a cemetery of numbers, digging that grave of despair deeper and deeper. 

I watch family and folks from the community arrive with dishes of food, as if anybody in this dump feels like eating red velvet cake and fried chicken. We’ve got four rooms in this pathetic house, and my brother blew his head off in one of them—nobody in his right mind wants to sit at our table, bite into our food, and taste our misery.

Car doors slam. I count the footsteps moving toward the house. They speak in hushed voices, but I hear them. They don't care about us. They've come out here to see where my brother died. They'll dissect his death, open up all the details, and spread the bloody horror of our family from one end of the county to the next. I despise them all. Where were they when we needed them?

So far, my old man hasn’t hit the bottle, but I doubt he can hold out much longer. If he stays sober all night and through the funeral tomorrow it'll be a goddamn miracle. And we sure as hell aren't allotted many miracles out here. He's still sitting in the corner. He moves his hands and holds them out before him, as though examining them for blood. For once in his life, the old man has a good reason to dilute his memories with alcohol. His eyes, dark and hard as nails in a coffin, are parched and thirsty, and his hands tremble with urgency. It won’t be long. Lord knows it won’t be long. There's no hope to be found in this house.

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve submerged myself in numerals. I'm trapped inside the cesspool of my old man's cruelty and addiction, and that's why I learned to survive with numbers. When my father swaggers through the door with a bottle of lightning in his hands, his lethal eyes slashing everything in his path, numbers bleed from me. Without sound, I count when he whips the razor strap across my back and legs. I count, tallying the slashes to my legs, the marks he'll leave scarred on my body. When I walk, I count. When I walk from the house to the tobacco barn I tally my steps, keeping score with a rhythm, my speechless tongue marching to the beat of a steady drum: a-one-and-a-two-and-a-three-and-a-four-and-a-five-and-a-six. I can’t stop this obsession with numbers. I'm addicted. Several times I tried to give up the habit, but numerals gush from me like a wound that won’t stop bleeding. I’m a continuous hemorrhage of numbers.

Me and my old man scraped Paul’s brains from the beadboard walls yesterday and washed the blood and gore from the iron headboard. The old bastard said it was our place to do it. The preacher told us that he’d find some good Christian members of the church to clean the room, but the old man said no. Said we’d do it. The sheriff offered to send out a crew to handle the clean-up. The old man still refused. He yelled at the sheriff. "It's our responsibility and we'll get the house ready for Paul's body. Mind your own goddamned business."

As I cleaned my identical brother’s brains from the bedroom, I went from counting footsteps to counting the beats of my heart. A savage drumbeat crashed against my ribs. The year is 1944, and I counted 1,944 heartbeats. Talk about coincidences.

Paul wanted to be something when he grew up, but he didn’t know what. You can’t plan for the future when you’re living in a battlefield, and the enemy is your own deadbeat father whose love for liquor is only one of the most lethal things about him. The bastard would kill his own wife and children for a drink. Some might think I’m padding the truth, but slip into my skin and try dreaming under the weight of a man who won’t let you speak an opinion born from your own head—a man who beats his children to a pulp for slamming a door and drags his wife to the bedroom when he comes home drunk—and see how much time’s left for deciding a future. Shit. All you know is you want freedom. You've gotta escape. You throb all the way down to your bones with the desire to wake up without fear and dread knotted tight in your belly. You long to sleep a full night without nightmares sneaking into bed with you. That’s all you know. Like a prisoner of war, you spend every minute counting down to freedom.
You might not believe this, but Paul loved poetry. Perhaps you think a poor white boy has no reverence for matters of the heart, but I'll tell you what Paul told me: Poverty is the mother of poets. Paul idolized Walt Whitman. He admired Keats and Frost and some of the others, too, but he flat-out worshiped Whitman. You should have heard him recite Oh Captain! My Captain! The words swelled in sorrow on his tongue and fell like salty tears around him. I can hear Paul still: “My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still. My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.”

Paul kept his plans a secret. If I’d known he was plotting to kill himself, I’d have told him to turn the gun on me too. Don’t leave me in this hell with no way out. But Paul didn’t confide the details of his escape to me. He mapped out a plan and made a dash for freedom without looking back at me, his twin brother, his mirror image. He ripped my heart out by the roots and left me screaming on the battlefield. Goddamn you, Paul. Goddamn you.

One night, not long ago, I asked Paul if his head bulged with numbers like mine did. He told me of course it did. “We came from the same womb on the same day with the same parents and were split from the same egg. Of course numbers fill both our heads, Peter.” Until then, I thought I was the only one counting to sleep with a steady lullaby of numbers. I live by the beat of the digits in my head. If I clean out the numbers, I don’t know what ghosts I might find hiding there. I’m too yellow to open that box. The numbers keep me going. Fixate on numbers and the rhythm of counting and you can handle anything. Maybe that’s what Paul did. Maybe he stopped counting, and the god-awful truth of his life reared up from that graveyard in his mind, demons screaming from every corner of the brain he blew to kingdom come.

Mosquitoes buzz around my ears, drill into my flesh, and feast on my blood. Paul once told me only female mosquitoes take our blood. I wonder if any of these fat mosquitoes still carry my brother's blood. I count eight of them squatting on my arms and legs, and there’s more swarming around my head. I can’t feel the bites. Nothing penetrates me other than this miserable ache pounding out numbers in my head.

I look up through the cracks long and hard at that coffin. It holds not only my brother, but his laughter and his anger and his tears and his memories and his love of poetry and his voice and his songs and the stories he told and his tilted smile and all the numbers that once filled his head. How can a simple pine coffin hold so much without splitting wide open? That box overflows with a life lived, and tomorrow we’re going to place it in a hole and smother it with dirt. And my old man will go back to drinking if he’s not already drunk by then, and my mama will go back to her colorblind lie of a life, and I’ll count and count and count.

By tomorrow night, the mattress should be dry. 

I’ve got to believe the numbers won’t let me down.

Sleeping on Paul's Mattress is a short story by Brenda Sutton Rose
originally published in a different form by Mobius: A Journal of Social Change.
Dogwood Blues by Brenda Sutton Rose on Amazon
Dogwood Blues by Brenda Sutton Rose on Barnes & Noble

©2010-2016 Blog Exchange Traffic All Rights Reserved

An Evening with Local Authors: Books Allowed!

Robert Reid Goodson, Director of Tift Theatre for the Performing Arts, has unveiled a lineup of local authors for An Evening with Local Authors

In 2000, after claiming the title of Reading Capital of the World, Tifton hit the national headlines for something as nurturing and inspiring as reading. I was living in Illinois at the time. Imagine my surprise when I turned the channel to CNN and heard Tifton—my hometown—being reported on for reading. Not football. Reading.

I have since discovered we are a reading community, and our local library is the center of it all. In Tifton, we pride ourselves in reading everything from chick flick to fantasy to science fiction to southern fiction to the classics and a great deal more. And poetry: let us never forget poetry.

Goodson aimed for a broad section of authors for this literary event to be held in downtown Tifton. He’s lined up authors of children’s books, Christian fiction, mystery, young adult, poetry, southern fiction, and other genres. Nine authors will be reading, discussing their works, and signing and selling books. I'll be one of them.

Let’s rattle our imaginations Friday night!

Where:  City Hall at the Myon, Tifton, Georgia
When:  Friday evening, March 20, 2015
Time:   7 PM
Admission fee:  $5

Kat H. Clayton
Tracey Cox
Beth Hallman
Janie Hopwood
E.M. Knowles
Rebecca Hagan Lee
Raven H. Price
Brenda Sutton Rose
Pamela Williams

What else do I need to know? Light refreshments will be served.

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Moaning with the blues: DOGWOOD BLUES

The Alapaha River flows through DOGWOOD BLUES.

Told through the voices of its eccentric characters, DOGWOOD BLUES depicts life in Dogwood, Georgia, a small town near the soothing waters of the Alapaha River, struggling with change.

When Kevin Kilmer, award-winning New York author with deep roots in Dogwood, purchases a Craftsman in the historic district and moves back to his hometown to write his memoir, he shocks the community with his lifestyle and comes face to face with his past.

As spring blooms with the miracle of new life, Boone Marshall, a farmer and blues pianist, stirs gossip by bringing home a new bride, a nightclub singer from New Orleans, six months after his ex-wife’s suicide.

Every week, the women of the Honeysuckle Bridge Club gather at homes in the historic district to play cards, share gossip, and argue about local issues. Playing bridge has never been more fun. And Nell Sauls, a bridge club member for thirty-five years and a gossipmonger who keeps her nose in everybody’s business, creates gossip and drops it like bird poop all over town.

Dogwood residents draw battle lines over the upcoming liquor referendum, a vote that threatens to turn dry Creek County wet. Tommy Stone, a construction worker from Willacoochee, makes extra money by building unique Vote Yes and Vote No signs for residents to display their views on the issue in their yards.

The Alapaha River holds the novel together with liquid grace and the sound of ancient life. Spanish moss hangs like witch’s hair from the arms of native trees, and spring blooms with the magnificent beauty known only in the South. A new goat is born near the river. Music grows from the soil and from the bleeding heart of Boone Marshall. He plays the piano with a farmer's hands.

Brimming with opinionated and irreverent characters, and told with the mournful sound and rhythm of the blues, DOGWOOD BLUES is a story of betrayal, prejudice, forgiveness, and redemption. It is a love song to southern Georgia, a prayer played out with the blues.
DOGWOOD BLUES sings of the beauty of the southern landscape.


This sassy first novel from Brenda Rose captures some of the conflicted and captivating characters of a rapidly changing South. The book poises on a fulcrum between cultures, between those digging in and those racing onward. It would be serious business if it weren't so light-hearted and funny. And like most Southern writers, Rose is obsessed with the mysteries of place -- the landscape comes fully alive beneath her pen. ~~Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, winner of the American Book Award, 2015 inductee into Georgia Writers Hall of Fame

Spring comes to Dogwood with a multitude of heavenly blooms. Much of the story takes place in Dogwood, Georgia and at a cabin on the Alapaha River.
DOGWOOD BLUES by Brenda Sutton Rose is a work of classic small-town fiction, evoking memories of "Cold Sassy Tree," by Olive Ann Burns. At the heart of Rose's fetching story is Lottie's Beauty Shop, where rumors come and go with its good-hearted customers. And then there's Nell, whose 60th birthday unleashes a bitter mood that runs dog-wild throughout the town. ~~Pulitzer Prize nominated Author Janice Daugharty, Writer in Residence at ABAC, in Tifton, Georgia, author of Earl in the Yellow Shirt

DOGWOOD BLUES weaves a tapestry of mysteries that are revealed one by one in a small Georgia town where everyone has at least one secret. Filled with humor and pain, bitterness and redemption, this atmospheric novel offers glimpses of wisdom in unlikely places and invites the reader to choose compassion above all else. ~~Elizabeth Jennings, author of THE BUTTON COLLECTOR

DOGWOOD BLUES is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Later, it will be available on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, numerous local stores, and some B&N stores. It will be available on Nook, Sony, Apple, Kobo, and Diesel. Dogwood Blues is sold at Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at the Country Store. It is also sold at The Cabin Shop and Moon's Pharmacy in Tifton. In Nashville, it can be purchased at Nana's House Quilt Shop.

You may contact me about DOGWOOD BLUES at brendaroseatbellsouthdotnet. When emailing me, please type the address above in the proper email format. It is listed in a manner to avoid Spam.

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(I wrote this poem about my mother, after her death, and read it at her funeral.)

With red clay between my toes,
and the sun setting over my head,
the ghost of my mother blows in,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze.
Her teeth, the keys of a piano.

I play her grinning ivory notes
with cadenced fumbling fingers,
splattered with paint, textured with scars.
A song rises up from the belly of my past
and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories.

My mama’s dress bears the stains of her life:
blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk;
She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow;
Its brilliance nearly blinds me.

My fingers tire, 
as though I've played this song for years.
And the tune swells red, 

dying around the edges of a setting sun.
A magnolia breeze blows in strong, 

a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home. 
She will not say goodbye.
For there is no truth in spoken farewells.

I am pregnant with a poem,
my life lost in its stanzas.

My mama steps out of her dress
and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet.
She stands alone: bathed, blooming,
burdened with nothing of this world.
Her body is naked and beautiful,
her wings gray and scorched,
her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine.

I watch her departure, her flapping wings:
She doesn’t look back, not even once,
not even to whisper my name: Brenda.

I lick the teeth of my piano mouth.

With a painter’s hands,
with a writer’s hands
with rusty wrinkled hands,
with hands soaked in the joys,
the sorrows, the spills
of my mother’s life,
I pick up eighty-one years of stains
And pull her dress over my head.

Her stains look good on me.

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A Poem: Road Trip to Snow

Road Trip to Snow
published by Flycatcher Magazine.

I swear we will never find the place. A right off
Highway 41 South. South, you tell me, nearly 
pleading, softly praying, always south.
We cruise past corduroy fields,
freshly plowed,
grooves, ridges, rows,
pressed, creased,
like brown school pants across a summer landscape. 
And I ask you
when will we arrive.
    Too late, you tell me,
                        too late.

Take a right on this dirt road,
Curling into a day splattered among four colors
and no sign of a mailbox.
By startling the crows
we paint the sky black.
This is the place,
oh God, this is the place.
Look at the birds, you say,
look at the birds.
      I look, I stare,
                        I shudder.

I follow your footprints
to the back yard and watch
you peer inside where
a door is torn away
to reveal your childhood.
Floors collapsing, boards rotting:
A room, red as liquid guilt.
A boy, a brother. A father.
A pair of brogans.
A sister (you),
a daughter (you)
praying under this starving,
broken porch.You. You. You.
The 1930s turned into the 1940s, you whisper,
    The depression
                        wouldn't let go. It wouldn't let go.

You tell me it snowed one day
and you tasted the miracle of the color white,
a handful, scooped up,
melting like hope in your mouth.
You called for your brother
who pulled himself from the silence of death,
snow dripping from his warm mouth,
a smile lifting his face, and came to
you one final time. He told you,
his little sister, a secret:
Angel's wings melt into snow.
Together, you ate handfuls of the stuff.
You tell me,
             I never tasted snow again.
                     It would never feel as good as it did that day.

Did you feel hope melting icy in your mouth
when I dampened your dying lips?
Did your son's voice cool your fevered flesh?

Did you dream of a snowy day in the 1940s
before you wore gray in your hair, and did you
savor the color white as you drifted away?
These thoughts come
storming at me like falling
angel wings after we
blanket you in the ground.

I brew, knowing the answers will not be found here.

I slide my car into reverse
but I can’t turn around;
                   I am stuck in a snowstorm.

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