OBLONG, ILLINOIS: a selection of poems
By Erin Pringle-Toungate
You Look Like Schätze in this Photograph
We called my father’s mother Schätze. On some nights she would roam, yodeling along the sidewalks of Oblong, a town of 700 or so. She smiled, remembering who she must have been.
That White House
Grandma Schätze’s house has florid red wallpaper, heavy glass, and yapping dogs. Newspapers scatter the kitchen linoleum where the dogs pee and eat. According to Aunt Carol, who telephones my mom, the woman euthanizes one dog when she wants another.
In the enclosed porch that tilts into the rest of the house, Grandma Schätze keeps her cockatiels and Grandpa Jim. He dies in a house fire begun in his pipe. In the hospital, my grandmother holds up her burned hands where she tried to put him out.
Halloween Parade, Oblong, Illinois
People and floats flicker down the dark street that passes through town and by the cemetery. My aunt wears pumpkin earrings from the pharmacy shop, and understands why I got too shy to walk. Back then, only dead people were in that cemetery.
Why Your Father Doesn’t Like Peaches or Chicken
His grandmother made him eat his peaches. His mother made him help her kill the chickens. I look out across the memory yard where they stand in gray dresses, not imagining him or me looking back.
My grandmother always called my father Jimmy instead of Jim. And my father answered to it, again and again, until he died before her. Is Jimmy there? she’d say when I picked up our kitchen phone.
My friend from college drove with me to Robinson, where my sister lived with a garden like Grandma’s. I asked if she wanted to visit Dad’s grave in Oblong. When we get there, we stand, looking down, and she says, You were such an asshole.
Erin Pringle-Toungate's next collection of stories, The Whole World At Once, will be published in Spring 2017 with the Vandalia Imprint of West Virginia University Press. Her first book of stories, The Floating Order, is published with Two Ravens Press (2009). These poems are from a memoir she is working on, tentatively entitled The Girl's Made of Bone. To learn more about her or her work, see www.erinpringle.com. Originally from rural Illinois, she now lives in Washington state.