“Unda the Stars” * Short Story * David P. Stewart

*The following story of southern country love gone fishing comes from Cornbread and Lace: The Privileges of a Mississippi Farmboy, which  was written by an author with both feet firmly planted in Mississippi. In David’s thought-provoking manuscript, the anguish of racism, classism, bigotry, patriarchy, war, segregation, and revisionist history are mixed with vivid stories about winged snakes, hot donuts, an old farting mule name Kate, and dinner on the ground. Thought-provoking wisdom from a loving grandmother and an African American maid named Maude are intertwined with touching stories about blood brothers, the wacky weed, sleeping under the stars, a single mother’s superpowers, and Native American romance. There are gripping stories about rape, bomb threats, LGBTQ alienation, divorce, death, sex, and redemption.*

 

My friend TJ lived with his family in a small cinder block apartment in the projects near the Mill Town area of Canton, Mississippi. TJ had a strappin build similar to the ancient Spartans, only not as well fed. His southern drawl was light and teasin. And, time and again, he said that my love for beautiful things made him glad to be on the right side of dirt.

TJ always smellt like a perfectly concocted combination of engine oil and Old Spice. And, he always wore well worn work shirts with his step daddy’s name printed in white capital letters on a patch juss above the pockets.

J E R R Y

Like Louis and Clarke, TJ and me went on legendary adventures in Daddy’s back pasture. When we wore out from surveyin our unchartered world, we would lay down in the warm dry grass and squint up at the clouds as they formed creatures unnamed by Eve and Adam.

TJ loved blowin dandelions as the sweetness of wild honeysuckle wafted over us in warm gentle waves. I loved watchin the waves carry the wishes we made.

One night, we camped out by our fishin pond without a tent. TJ said,

Sleepin unda the starz will hep us be one with Motha Nature.

That’s such a strange thing to tell to a barefoot farm boy with a constant graham cracker tan. But, I remembered that Granmaw always said,

Farmin teaches ya to be less fragile than city folks.

So, I considered this juss another peculiar farmin lesson, maybe for me, maybe for TJ, maybe for the both of us.

That night, we built a roarin fire that forced the profound darkness to retreat beyond our insulatin circle of towerin pines. Flames frolicked on the water and in our eyes while sparks hurtled themselves inta the immeasurable blackness. A family of deer munched on some of Daddy’s soybeans while we chewed on salted boiled peanuts, watched fireflies in flight, and made up venturesome visions for each other’s future. When the fire stopped its emphatic vocalizations, we counted the flitterin fluorescent pinpoints that hung over us in an obsidian that musta rivaled Eden’s sixth night.

As a single shaft of solemn smoke ascended inta the eternal shadows, the whole universe bent down and enveloped us in holy harmony. It was exotic and erotic. Cool damp dirt against warm suntanned skin. The cordial caresses of leaves on a low hangin branch humbly yeildin to a soft Southern breeze carrin a hint of wild jasmine and lantana.

Clear eyes. Clear minds.

Sweat on white cotton shirts. Jeans stained green from farmin. Moonbeam kisses on the rippled pond. Ancient whispers of wisdom from the ebbin embers. The smell of ashes. Wishin on shootin stars. Burpin with burpin bullfrogs. My dogs at our feet – happy in the fire’s warmth, their heads rested gently on their matchin white paws.

Unmatched peace. Unmatched joy.

A lullaby from a lovin creator. For one night, I forgot I was afraid of the dark.

The next mornin, we awoke as honored guests to a glitterin fantasy filled with seductive sweetness. The first light of the bloomin sun was diligently trackin the last curiosities of the night when the song of a crowin cock cued beauty’s surge. Fish with lips full of lust took flight with frenzied passion. Their commotion chased away the last odds and ends of a swirlin fog. Gigglin sparrows filled silent pulpits. Finely spun webs transfigured inta strings of tantalizin temptations that woulda made Mr. Willie Wonka proud. Teacup flowers spilt over with the passions of Pan. The night’s dew had consecrated everythin, even us, with a holy kiss.

Our lesson was finalized as the unrestrained burn of the risin sun set the tips of the great oaks ablaze with ornamental explosions. Squirrels scurried from branch to branch. A twelve point buck stood like a statue as he surveyed his stately territory. A full grown mallard exposed his tender silver breast as he surrendered to the welcomed warm glow of the new Mississippi mornin. In jubilation, he extended his wings and flapped in unfettered rapture.

When the sunlight’s fever poured over my face, I raised my prodigal cup. TJ’s elbow rested on my left shoulder. His smile was as wide as mine when he said,

Didja know? The love calls of birds are more lovely in the mornin cause the sound travels further.

I didn’t answer. But, TJ knew that I understood.

When we got back home, Moma had a full breakfast ready and waitin. As we sat in silence, she said,

You two look different this mornin.

We juss smiled.

I was country
when country wasn’t cool.

—About the Author—

David Paul Stewart grew up on a working farm outside the picturesque city of Canton, Mississippi. He and his partner and their two bulldogs currently reside in Arlington, Virginia. David earned an undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University and a Masters in Theological Studies with an emphasis on just-peacebuilding from Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. His thesis, “Peace in the Poet’s Path,” calls on Muslim and Christian female poets to join in grassroots efforts to promote justice and peace worldwide. His soon to be published books on poetry include: Muted Screams, Cries for Justice, Echoes of Eros, Divine Pathways, and Sacred Stanzas.

Check out David’s previous story, “Aunt Dottie I Didn’t Do It” for another kind of rollicking good time!