Terry Ann Thaxton is a fourth generation Floridian. Her first collection of poems, Getaway Girl, won the 18th Annual Frederick Morgan Poetry Prize, and was published March 2011 by Salt Publishing (UK). She has published poetry in journals such as Rattle, Connecticut Review, Comstock Review, Hayden’s Ferry, West Branch, Tampa Review, Cimarron Review, and others. Her essays have appeared in Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Fourth Genre, and Teaching Artist Journal.
She is Associate Professor of English at UCF where she founded and directs the Literary Arts Partnership at UCF which provides creative writing workshops to alternative populations throughout central Florida, including shelters, assisted living centers, residential treatment facilities, public schools, and prisons. She also directs ArtsBridge and is the faculty advisor for the student organization, Arts for All Ages. She has received grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women, Youth Service America, the Florida Humanities Council, and United Arts of Central Florida. Her book, Creative Writing in the Community is forthcoming from Continuum Publishers.
“Terry Ann Thaxton sifts through the images of a childhood half-buried among the pines and saw palmetto of her native Florida and unearths a child orphaned by abuse. In a home where “Southern Baptists exchange judgments”, she hides among a tribe of siblings, roaming the woods and playing games that hold equal degrees of cruelty and love. At the first opportunity she flees – into the arms of more abuse, then, wildly, into years where “suitcases fell from the closet” and “she thinks of marching toward [the pond],/ perhaps reaching a gray cloud, pulling the switch”. And yet, somehow, “the sky offers its philanthropy all day”. The genealogy of despair is also the genealogy of hope. In the search to clarify the past – and thus transform the present – these poems turn over the shards of memory like the colored glass in a kaleidoscope, looking for an angle that will light up the great mystery of how we become and continue becoming who we are.”
“In this collection, Terry Ann Thaxton holds the reader hostage, and sets her free at the same time, in poems that walk the line between pure tension and pure festival, terror and recreation, anxiety and beauty, and always with sure steps, perfect timing, uncanny musical intuition. In Getaway Girl we are introduced to a poet who brings the world to us in eerie clarity, giving mystery and the spirit their full due while staying firmly grounded in the gritty details of a life. “Let me demand// a vase as a sequel to myself”. Terry Ann Thaxton has given us the vase, and the self, and a whole new way of looking at this world in her remarkable, unforgettable, poetry collection.”
– Laura Kasischke
“In Getaway Girl Terry Ann Thaxton enters the haunted threshold territory between past and present. In these lyric narratives she explores how and why we stray so irresistibly to that place. Despite the harrowing circumstances of the poet’s childhood and early adulthood, despite the absolute necessity for escape, there’s a paradoxical longing to be found, to recover “the lost openings of my life”, echoed beautifully in the empty carapace of a box turtle, fishcrows crying for shore, the unsent letter of a remembered voice … Thaxton is a poet of nature, but first and foremost she is a poet of remarkable imagination. This is an authentic, marvelous first collection.”
– Nancy Eimers
Inside the house, red
as a bruised peach, someone
kicked me saying this
is love, but
I found my broken
perfume bottles at the edge
of the stone steps, my
and my only escape
was over homemade ball fields
where I found myself
chased by headlights
of the drunken car
he drove that made the baby
inside die. To remind me
of the baby,
he buried — under a pile
of old garbage bags —
the dog he shot. I put my hands
through the front
window to make him
stop, but every night, in my dreams,
I looked for the baby I lost, tearing dress
after dress out of the branches.
My black coat hid the face
I kept trying to lose. And when he left
to buy apologies
at the card shop
I hoped he would
not return. There were other
times I waited
for him, committed crimes
for him, like the time I kept
the motor running
in a truck at the edge
of a deserted road while he
rolled heavy electric spools
from construction sites,
carried stacks of lumber,
and then scattered
nails, hammers, and paint
into the truck bed. I was is
getaway girl. I remember
him urinating on me
as if I were a stone
statue by Picasso.
I wanted someone to take him
to Africa and lay him under
the heads of elephants.
I wanted to see him dead
in a lake of grass. Instead, he kept
pinning me against the wall,
tying me to the floor,
and I smelled the heat of Florida
coming up through
the tiles in the bathroom.
I begged my grandmother
to lift her arms from her grave,
grab his fists, his ankles
and tie him to the damp,
Let go of the scattering sounds of other boys
crushing butterflies in the schoolyard, eating
grasshoppers, stepping on your fingers.
Reach into the ground, into the dirt of your infancy
and find your own answers —
the madness inside you may never die.
Remember the saying of the water-skimmer
whose mouth filled with mud water and dried fish.
Remember the soccer field when you were five,
the space you were told to stand in, the insects you found,
their antennae, thorax, heads, legs, abdomen.
Let go of what people say to you,
let go of their questions.
The echoes of the schoolyard may never stop
ringing in your sleep: the other children climbing monkey-bars,
shooting baskets, skipping rope, playing Red-Rover, Red-Rover.
Forget the straight lines other children make.
Your madness is almost invisible.
Remember the dragonfly behind you, the monarch above you,
the darkling beetle below you,
the harvester ant, the scarab, the ladybird.
Remember the insect-speak of your world that, even now,
Take hold of the silence entering your world —
answer only the cries of the insects; your mother is not
leaving you and the insects in your dreams will never die,
they will not lie to you or drop
you into night. They will not ask you to explain
the words of the song you are singing.
A Different Life
when you leave your child under
twenty-four hour suicide watch
and he’s eleven
and a prisoner in a private war
you blame yourself for the cars
he dove in front of
the buildings he jumped from
the wall of the bedroom
he banged his head on
the clothes you armed him with in the morning
the same clothes he shredded in the afternoon
you blame yourself for the time
you left him screaming
at the day care
and that woman washed his mouth out
you blame yourself for not knowing
how to do this
you walk out of the hospital
into an uncaring afternoon
and you reach for
what do you reach for?
the trees with leaves that fall apart?
the clouds that are really nothing?
I was the painted tongue, and when I called
her name that she had hidden beneath
terrazzo floors, dried flowers
called for morning, and I invited my son
to ride bkes with me into the woods where we walked
through high grass, through lichen,
toward a stream. Then Mother’s necklace
called me home, and, in my dream, she was reading
the truth I had written, Mother never played
games with me. The voice of reason: if you bury
a necklace, it will come back as earlobes, but
I am in exile — Mother never wanted my
voice, even though I tried to tell her
I was not a white ballerina pretending
to be a flamingo. Last week there was an alligator
in my flowerbed — nine feet — the trapper
wrapped each pair of legs with electric tape,
taped his eyes shut. A man across the street
called the TV station — hungry, they said, for a
girlfriend, and my son sat on the sidewalk
and sketched the scales on his back. I did not want
to be reminded of the failure of my life: a dead
baby, three husbands, a dirty kitchen. Mother told me
I’d never keep a man because my bangs creep
into my eyes. Mother, I can see through my hair now,
I can see the box where I keep the necklace you did not
want to wear even in your death,
I can see you waving, giving birth to
a memory I don’t want back — terrazzo beneath
my feet, a tree I once knew, the living
room chair I hid behind
so you’d think I’d finally escaped, so you would not put
a dust rag in my hand, you playing card games
without me, your teeth, firm,
staring at me, beads on my tongue.
When I was young
I noticed the children next door asking a robin
to teach them the songs
of trees. Later, I gave birth to a boy
and he unwrapped the sky. Now I walk to the window
behind the vase with tulips and watch
dawn try to tear apart
the dark, but the tulips grow
tired waiting for sunlight. And I think,
here is a woman exhausted
at thirty-seven, destined
to lean on the furious arrow
that demands women stand up
for themselves. How will I find the road to forty?
Sometimes at night, walking home, I hear
bells down the street,
and I know that one day
even my son will leave,
and sometimes my mother calls
from her death asking to see
the quilt she made. Then she shows me
our old house, moves
furniture around, tears down the walls
between my room and my brother’s,
and gives me more furniture, but I have
nowhere to put it. One night my lover
whispers into my ear that I am
a sweet woman, easy to love,
says the first time he touched me
he knew he loved me. Then one day
a younger man shows me —
and because I’m almost forty I want to see it —
his journal, tells me he’s enamored with me.
When a friend shows me a mirror
sculpted with pink flowers, I tell her that in it I see aging.
She says, no, what you see
is fear. I want to dream myself with wildflower
hair and my lover a waterfall
from the north cooling the Florida sun.
What if my family forgets me?
What if my lover dies before me?
What if I stand on the roof of my house
and notice that all housetops look the same
under a full moon?
What if the sun appears desperate, what if all these things
that have happened to me are connected?
What if the trees say nothing.
Another Night in Jealous, U.S.A.
There is a woman in bed where sleep
does not exist. This dream will end behind
her lips gesturing desire. First she breathes
his name, in fragments, her arms and words fly
from her body. Oh, why do dreams obey
obsession? I see that this is her hand,
commanding him to worship. There is a
quarter under her words and her next chant
begins. Under her tossed hair, her fingers
singing, is dinner for two. In the room
she hangs his shirt opposite the mirror.
There are raw eggs, candle light, some
dancing. Then a song: fountains stop their wish
and she carries him across her loneliness.
He unbuttons his shirt, her dress; a fire
mounts in the building behind them, and songs
ride waves of cliché blue. Time mistakes my
tears for night. I’m chewing my dress, a bomb
talking. I want to run her out of town,
and then I want him to find angry rocks
in her language. Instead, they slither down
the pavement of my body and stroke
each other’s lips. My toes are furious.
My hair is a shroud on streetlights. The chimes
insist that I feign madness. Then my dress
unwinds, the street turns on its side. Sometimes
I turn away, see nothing, and they laugh;
then she turns her head and I see myself.
An hour before my surgery you quizzed me
about a Celtics game, how Bird shot one
from behind the basket — did it count?
you asked — you’re my lover girl, you kept saying,
touching my hair, then — what’s an over-and-back?
I answered one of them right.
The anesthesiologist told you
she’ll forget you kissed her
and I did.
I woke up looking at the clock:
8:40 in a room with one long metal table, tubes
hanging from walls, a little light, two nurses.
Someone wanted a break. Another patient whose ovaries
had been removed, moaning, and I was the lucky one,
only the cyst. Someone asked
my name again.
I returned to my room and the clock,
broken, read 8:20. You handed me flowers
in a sailboat cup — I could’ve floated
out of there but I could not wake up
you told me at eleven
I could stay at the hospital all night,
told me you’d come back at nine in the morning —
all night I waited 40 minutes: the light
in the hall, nurses forgetting to kill
the pain, door left opened, the clock reading
8:20. Voices of women and men, light,
nurse, thermometer in my mouth.
In the morning the doctor showed us
pictures of the laparoscopy: a mass
of blood and tissue, cyst
big as an orange, bleeding into the abdomen,
the fallopian tubes, the ovary, the uterus,
and something, she said,
that was supposed to be white. The day before
as they prepared me
for surgery, so that I would forget the pain held inside
my body, you had asked me to tell you
stories of a boring television show over and
over — General Hospital, something I’d watched
for twenty years. I told you that before I learned to trust you,
its characters were the people I counted on,
and created stability in my life. The nice gangster
who refuses to use physical force and marries
the wrong girl to save himself from a life
in prison, the psychopath who in prison befriends
the craft woman who helps him escape. Gives him a drug
to lower his heart rate, so he appears
dead. She arranges a funeral,
buries him, then when the time is right, she digs him
up, and as he is thanking her,
holding her gently from behind, he wraps
a thin white rope around her neck
and kisses her goodbye.
I am trying to recall my walk this evening,
if I took one, if the wave of sky
at the corner of the street brought me
home, and I am trying to remind
myself that my lover is in the next room
reading a book without me — I am almost certain
that he once showed me the words
of wilderness, and if I could crawl into the trunk
in the corner, I might find an explanation of
my invisible life — perhaps the dinosaur my son drew,
or the photograph of myself at ten
in a swimsuit, wet, arms at my stiff side
— a ten-year-old marine prepared to obey
her daddy’s orders. I have already forgotten
all the birds my lover gave to me in the shallow water,
and I do not recall when I hung
the burlap on my wall or if I am the one
who hammered the nail. There is no scented candle
next to the feathers in the crystal vase,
but somewhere llamas watched the sunrise
and someone bathed in the river of brown
and gray. There are no peaches in the basket
near the duck who could, if he really wanted to,
find a pen or an envelope and ask
a friend to save him. There are no more
beaded birds upon my cheeks.
There is no longer a clock in my fingers.
There is no man in the next room with lust
for my slender arms. There is no mailbox
on a street lined with oaks,
there is not even this room and I do not know
if I am in the book my lover reads or if
I am only the shadow from a dream I once had
in which palmetto fronds swayed above us
and a few small birds I could not name.
from Getaway Girl (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Getaway Girl.
Visit Terry’s website.
Read Jen Campbell’s short review of Getaway Girl.