In 2020, many beautiful books got overlooked due to the pandemic. With March being Small Press Month, I thought we could feature one of those books, which is also a small press title: Press53 is the publisher of Maureen Oehler DuRant’s debut poetry collection, Skirmishes on the Oakie-Irish Border. Morri Creech, author of Blue Rooms and The Sleep of Reason, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, said this of the volume, “Maureen DuRant’s Skirmishes on the Okie-Irish Border is both clear-eyed and open-hearted in its explorations of childhood, family, love, and those borders that both divide and define us. Humorous, candid, tender, they demonstrate a rare insight, engaging the world with plainspoken language and a canny wisdom. DuRant’s poems skirmish at the fraught edges of language, winning ground page by page “in a battle to claim turf where tongues can hold their own.” Please enjoy the excerpts below.
Excerpts from Skirmishes on the Oakie-Irish Border.
Before I was let loose on the street to play,
to wander the sidewalk on Woodvale Road,
and find a girl my size to be my friend, my ma
told me how to answer the question, What are ya,
Catholic or Protestant? So, when the kids circled
me, I offered each a Jelly Baby from the bag
my Aunt Norah bought me at the sweet shop
across from the Belfast Blitz site where I stood
and cried because my ma told me about her friend
who died and the German bomb dropped on the roof
of their house on Israel Street. So my granny took
the whole lot of them across the road to another house
and there they stayed even after the other family
came home. That’s what they got for leaving.
When the biggest boy, whose name was Devlin,
asked, I gave my answer: I’m American.
What kind of American? he demanded and I said,
The Oklahoma kind. Then the kids started
whooping it up like fake Indians on The Lone Ranger,
asking me if I lived in a teepee, rode a horse, been scalped?
I live in a normal house, you stupid eejits!
The circling stopped. Devlin put out his hand.
Give me your candy. I belted “The Wild Rover,”
No. Nay. Never, clutched the white twisted sack,
and stood my ground on the Okie-Irish border.
The mortician drained you and laid you out
in the crepe, mauve dress worn only once
to a granddaughter’s wedding. A beauty
school dropout, it would seem, has given you
a makeover. Hair left in Toni stiff spirals,
frosty blue eyeshadow, Siren Scarlet lips,
make you look, as you would say, like
an old whore saddled up to a dank bar
in a one-horse town. A duo of daughters
go to work. I zip open your cosmetic bag,
an Avon lady’s gift with purchase and find
your face. Pond’s cold cream on cotton pads
swipe away the make-up death mask.
Helen dusts your nose with Estee Lauder’s
translucent powder and I draw your Tabu
lips, blot on a folded tissue. A boar’s hair
bristle brush loosens the stiff curls
into your soft gray waves, summer storm
clouds threatening games of jump rope,
skipping over the spinning length
of clothesline stolen from the neighbor’s
yard. A tisket, a tasket, my mom
is in her casket. I twist the lipstick tube again,
line my mouth in the color that called me home.
© Maureen Oehler DuRant 2020
Photo by BD DuRant
Maureen Oehler DuRant’s cousin in Broken Bow, Oklahoma died last year at 102, yet her Aunt Mary in Belfast, Northern Ireland lives on and turns 100 in April, so she believes, perhaps, there is still time, after all, to be a poet. Maureen earned an MFA in Creative Writing with her patient husband’s GI Bill at Queens University of Charlotte and her poetry has appeared in Crosstimbers, Red River Review, Westview, and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. She is the co-author of Postcard History Series: West Point, published by Arcadia Press, 2007. She currently serves as the country’s loudest librarian at Lawton High School and teaches at Cameron University.