The South thaws. Crawfish surface on every front lawn in southeastern Arkansas. Students invite me to the boil. I ask what they taste like. Mudbugs. I decline. Pollen cloaks rusted land. The yellow powder blankets my car as thick as the snow that never falls here. For the first time in thirty years, I am allergic. Everyone smokes for comfort and so grows the communal cough.
The bank positions its ceremonial pig roaster to block closed drive-through lanes. The doomsday postal worker preaches from her service desk. We’re about to go the way of Dorothy. Another twister on its flat course. Y’all be smart, she says as I stand alone. Don’t go runnin’ to Walmart midstorm, ya hear? Invitation for a Yes, ma’am.
This is my first year in the South. During year one, they ask me on repeat if I have found my church yet. Just name a church, any church, another Northerner advises. Here, they call me Key-ale-say until I question how to say my name. I now know that Honey, I’m gonna pray for you is meant to insult. Tragedies range from the smoked brisket food truck selling out, to another tractor-trailer spilling its load of tree trunks into the windshield of the car behind it. The correct response is Bless it. A tornado may gain or lose wind speed upon reaching a forest.
Y’all in the south now. Get a gun and toughen up, a four-foot-something momma warns me. For snakes. It’s illegal to shoot ’em, but no one gonna stop you from shootin’ a snake. Only Jesus and a shotgun can save. Officials issue reminders not to shoot bullets at tornadoes.
When I am alone, I allow Y’all to slip just to feel it smooth in my mouth on its way out. I do not Yes, ma’am anyone. I Mmm-hmm the postal worker while thinking of the rain pounding petals on my rose bush. I bought a little house with cabinets greased from stovetop smoke. Gardens bloom with plants that would not survive a northern winter. The twister misses. Bless it. At night, when the surviving forest creeps up and my dogs growl, I think about that gun I do not own.