Mudlark Flash No. 16 (2002)

Tiff Holland

My Mother's Transvestites

Tracy | Tracy at Two A.M. | Tracy's Demonstration
Tracy and Al Queda | Tracy on Three South
Tracings | More Facts About Tracy | Tracy in Two Voices
Twelve | One of Us | Phenomenology of Tracy
Indivisible | Positive | My Mother's Transvestites

Tiff Holland is working on her Ph.D. at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. She writes both poetry and fiction. Her work has recently appeared in POETRY MIDWEST, SLIPSTREAM, and THE CORTLAND REVIEW and will soon appear in EXPOSURE and LITERAL LATTE.


can't hold her liquor,
is a flirt but not a tease,
will say anything to anyone,
and has
left me, looking for car keys in bushes,
panties balled at the end of the bed.

Tracy believes
in astrology but not insurance,
likes low cut blouses
and cheap sentimental jewelry.
Sometimes, she whistles
for no apparent reason, prays
when she thinks I can't hear.

Tracy thinks
recommended daily allowances
are for suckers.
She never gets up
to make sure the stove's off
or check the smoke detector.

Once she went for milk
and came back with a convertible,
traded my Civic for fifty
monthly payments.

Tracy plays the wineglasses at parties,
runs a finger over each rim,
adjusts the pitch with sips
of zinfandel or burgundy,
her lips so red, I pale
in comparison,
make her apologies,
try to believe it when I say,
it's not me, it's Tracy.

Tracy at Two A.M.

Tracy asks a stranger in a bar,
want a cheap fuck?
gets a chocolate kiss instead.
People are always telling Tracy
what she does or doesn't really want.
It's Valentine's Day.
She thinks her heart is broken,
dances so hard she leaves a wake
of vodka, straight.
Tracy tells the man, the boy
who half carries her to her car,
you look just like my ex-husband.
They all look just like her ex-husband.
Only he's not really ex, yet.
Last week he was on Dial-a-Date,
WKJX fm, looking for someone
eighteen to thirty-five, someone
who wants a commitment.
When she hears his voice she remembers
him, singing her to sleep
when she was seventeen.
At twenty-two he tells her,
You don't want to be married,
don't act like you're married.
It's snowing when she pulls out
onto State Route 43, a snow
as heavy as her eyelids, her liver,
her spleen, and the wheel is cold.
She thought she wanted him and now
she thinks she doesn't.
She wants the snow plow to pick her up
carry her home in its steel embrace,
put her to bed.

Tracy's Demonstration

The husband shows her
how to fix the leak
in case you need to do it
in case I'm not here.

Tracy has witnessed many demonstrations—
how to defragment her hard drive,
how to string chain link,
how to reload a revolver with one hand,
let the wasted round drop and
check the cylinder through
a scrunched eye.

He likes for her to watch him
dig post holes and tighten,
tighten whatever is loose,
fit pieces of things
where he says that they belong.
Now you, he says, and hands her
one tool or another.
He reminds her of her fifth
grade health teacher who never
talked about health but showed
filmstrips, spermatozoa maturing
far away from the penis, traveling,
and ovums, all
a woman could ever need
right there at birth, waiting.

Mostly, Tracy slept through the filmstrips
and has learned how to repeat what men say
without really listening, although
she wonders how it is
that none of his travelers ever met up
with what was in her, waiting,
why he never mentions this
when all he does is talk, talk, talk.

Tracy and Al Queda

Tracy isn't stock-piling canned goods
or bottled water.
Give me a plane, she says,
I'll take care of Osama myself.
Tracy was in ROTC in college.
She knows how to set up a claymore mine,
how to mask and clear in nine seconds;
she always remembers to sound the alarm.
Carpet bombing, she claims,
is the ticket.
She is not worried about biological weapons,
tells me she's had her shots,
and we all die anyway, but
when the dog crawls into bed with us
she pulls him close.

Tracy on Three South

Tracy had made a gesture,
forty phenobarbital
or maybe an attempt
she doesn't remember now
why she did it, only
waking, wired up, beeping,
cyotic according to the report
which she looks up, blue and

She has made the mistake
of reading her own psychiatric records,
blames her mother, blames herself,
shuffles. Someone has noted
her need for feminine hygiene supplies.
That she asked for them is considered
a sign of progress.
After a few days she catches on.


T-R-A-C-Y is traced
onto every plane of glass
in the whole foggy house,
doodled on the cover
of my wide rule.
Sometimes, I forget
who I am with my hand
up in class, which of us
knows the answer.
I can't tell anyone about Tracy,
not the older brother Tracy
popped in the nose and not
the little one
who just wouldn't understand.
Tracy makes so much noise in my head
I can't hear mom call us to supper,
and I can't tell that either.
When I do,
a blue slip shows up at the end of fifth
period from Mrs. Finch, the school
psychologist, who tells me,
sometimes all of us don't feel
like ourselves and it's ok
to have an imaginary friend.

I don't tell Mrs. Finch
my whole family is imaginary,
that mom calls dad Milquetoast
and my brothers
the names of breakfast cereals.
She calls me Milan. Who knows
what she'd call Tracy?
We don't make a peep
in Mrs. Finch's office, which
is really the lady gym teacher's
equipment room.
I don't tell her,
no one is what they seem,
don't answer when she tells me
as we're leaving,
there really is no Tracy.
I want to believe her.

More Facts About Tracy

Now I know,
she was there in grade school.
It was Tracy who picked
Jimmy Miller up by the ankles,
shook him until he agreed
to give me a kiss, and
Tracy who punched Greg Fox
in the eye.
I had detention for a week.
She made me eat worms,
told my mother
she wasn't really my mother,
that I was a child of the moon,
which is why it followed me around.
Tracy likes to go first.
She isn't afraid of black mold.
It was Tracy
who volunteered for the trapeze
when the circus came to town
even though I'm afraid of heights.
She made fun of me
when the ringmaster lifted me down.
Crybaby, she called me,
eating cotton candy,
savoring the taste of salt
with the sweet.

Tracy in Two Voices

The doctor says Tracy is impulsive,
prescribes medication
Tracy refuses to take.
We argue on the way home.
I'm not depressed,
she says, clicking her gum.
She doesn't want to be someone else.
Claims, I like me as I am.
She changes the station on the radio,
sings along,
refuses to look me in the eye
in the rearview mirror.
Remember that rash, she reminds,
from the prozac.
And I concede, we almost died.
She complains, I couldn't wear
pink for a week.

But I don't like pink, I remind her
as she pulls into the drug store,
turns off the engine,
tells me suit yourself.


Tracy played with matches.
She ran with scissors.
She let Jeff Robinson stick two fingers in her.
That is how she came to know
the end of herself.
Jeff grunted, and the fingers
wagged, and Tracy tumbled.
The brick wall of her elementary school
was sandpaper through her t-shirt,
an itch she couldn't scratch,
her hands on Jeff's shoulders,
holding her to him,
pushing him back.

One of Us

When Tracy decides
there's only room for one of us,
I wake up in the ER
with a cop outside the door.
Tracy stays scarce
through six cups of liquid charcoal,
shows up later in intensive care,
just long enough to offer
no hard feelings.
She isn't there for group or
occupational therapy.
Tracy doesn't make
a model of a wooden car from a kit
or hit croquet balls through
wire rectangles on the hospital lawn.
After a week, I almost miss her,
when the doors open out
into the sunshine, almost
call to her,
but I don't.

Phenomenology of Tracy

My therapist wants to know, what happened to Tracy?
Can I see her, in the flesh? And when did she first appear,
as if I know, and if I did, would we need him?

Maybe it was my brother in a dress,
or those patent leather shoes my mother bought me
each September, or the only sitter
I still remember, Linda Donalson,
skinny-dipping with the boys down at the pond.
Maybe Tracy showed up because I couldn't
make another toilet paper drum,
couldn't glue another circle of felt on one end,
couldn't sprinkle any more glitter.
Or maybe it was the faces in the rose wallpaper,
the way they looked away when my father
carried me to bed.
Maybe I was lonely in a neighborhood
without any other girls.
Maybe Tracy wanted to play dodge ball at recess.
Maybe she is the part of me that refused
to climb down from the tree.
Maybe it was Jeff Durbin's fingers that brought her to me,
reaching deep inside a place
I never knew was empty.
Maybe I am Tracy.
Maybe she invented me.


Tracy chose:
man not mouse,
when mom refused
to turn on a nightlight.
Tracy chose
not to be afraid,
to put her money
where her mouth is,
load up a trunkful of olive drab,
go on maneuvers with the ROTC.
Tracy aimed
her sixteen through the forest,
and she didn't care
she'd have to clean up what she fired.
Tracy found her way back with the compass.
Tracy let my ex leave and then went dancing.
Tracy left
the razor in my wallet,
drank a little too much
too early in the day.
Tracy realized how much
vodka tastes like turpentine.
Tracy liked it anyway.
Tracy quit the job
where the manager required
women to wear dresses
and not because she doesn't have good legs.
Tracy thought she'd be better off without me
but came to understand,
we're a package deal.


Tracy can't believe we're pregnant,
checks the test strips twenty times
the first hour. The line stays pink.
How she asks but means why,
why now and what about
what the doctors said,
the blue dye that failed to travel
from ovary to fallopian tube to
uterine wall, what about
all her Tracy plans, New Orleans
in February and the beach in May.
She doesn't want to admit
that she's happy, that she wished
for just this. Instead,
she orders me to put my feet up
while she calls everyone, every
one she's played tough with
the last five years, every
one who might care.

My Mother's Transvestites

Tracy flirted with them,
with the Jack we called “Jill”
with the Old Dresser who always
slipped a fifty into mom's cleavage.

Somehow, they found their way
to Betty Petty's Beauty.
Perhaps the phone number
was written on the wall
in some gay bar in the Rubber City
or maybe it was word of mouth.

Their appointments were penciled in,
lightly, easy to erase.
After closing, at six or seven
or eight, they'd arrive,
in blue jeans or suits,
driving Lincolns or pick-ups,
just one at a time.

Mom would be washing towels,
emptying ashtrays,
and I'd let them in.
I was her protection,
In case he's a pervert,
she always said.

They carried paper sacks
and duffel bags.
They wore glasses
and wedding rings.
They'd push past the beads
between the dryers and the break room,
change in the back.

They'd emerge in strapless,
backless, black evening gowns,
perky cocktail dresses, heels.
None ever wore a duster, or
an apron.

Tracy told them they looked good,
asked them about their days
while mom leaned them
back in the shampoo chairs,
penciled in eyebrows, applied
foundation, blusher, lipstick.

Mom demonstrated when she finished,
do this
the same way she showed me,
and they'd mimic her,
pressing their lips together, carefully,
as if the colors were accidental,
as if they might be permanently stained.

I'd watch them in the three way,
while I spun circles in the styling chair,
using my tennis shoe toe as brake,
and they'd see me, and not Tracy,
watch my reflection, watch my reflection
look away.

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