I’m Gonna Cry | Rita Mae Reese

ImGonnaCryWhen I was a little girl, my mother would play George Jones and Tammy Wynette on the 8-track player. The only radio stations in Charleston, West Virginia, played country music, or so it seemed. My older sisters were fine with this arrangement. I was not. I hated the crying-in-your-moonshine misery of it all, the endless stream of women leaving their men, of men not coming home, of jobs that broke you and then left you. One evening when Jones was crooning between the heavy thumps of the 8-track, I sat beneath the kitchen table and began crooning my own country song, about my job leaving, my woman leaving, my damned dog leaving. My sister laughed at first, but when I wouldn’t stop she warned me that one day, when I was older, I would like country music. I stopped singing and sat under the table, contemplating the grim future. My sister went off to another room and after some time I tracked her down, begging her to be more specific—when exactly would this terrible thing happen? She wouldn’t say.


There have been country songs since then that I have enjoyed. I’ve monitored them anxiously like symptoms of something fatal, or at least disfiguring, but they’ve been few and far between. I live in Wisconsin now. I drive a mini van. I have an English degree. What I’m trying to say is, I have enough problems. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to a concert at the Stoughton Opera House. The Opera House has been lovingly restored to a glory that startles me every time I see it. It seems more like a cathedral than a concert hall, an oversized grotto where what is worshipped is sound and tradition. The act has to be spectacular to distract from the beauty of the walls and the hardness of the old wooden seats. My expectations were low. I would have happily sat with a numb butt just gazing at the gilded, giddy fleurs de lis while not doing laundry or listening to knock-knock jokes. But the Sweetback Sisters came out and started singing “I’m Gonna Cry.” It’s a bouncy, funny song about pleading for mercy from a boss, a landlord, and repo men, all met with the same refrain—“I’m gonna cry, cry, cry, lay right down and die, ball my little hands up, rub my eyes.” All of the good things about country music hit home at once—the humor, the honesty about life being more than a romantic endeavor, failed or otherwise, but being that too. And it had been there all along. By the end of concert, when they played a couple of moonshine songs from West Virginia, I knew that my sister’s prediction had finally come true. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna lay right down and cry.


Rita Mae Reese, author of The Alphabet Conspiracy, is a recipient of numerous awards, including a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. Visit her at www.ritamaereese.com.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings.  

Secret Americas | The Lenores | Rita Mae Reese

The Lenores
The man stands behind his camera in Mama’s bedroom. Gene said the President sent him here to take pictures of the ugliest things he can find, but I know Gene just heard Samson saying that. Samson is the ugliest man you ever saw and wouldn’t let anyone take his picture.

I know the man’s not taking pictures of ugly ’cause he took pictures of us on the porch with all of my mama’s flowers and her ivy and even Gene wouldn’t dare say Mama’s plants are ugly.

The man asks me what happened to my dolls. The question makes Mama’s body stiffen so instead of waiting for my answer he asks me what their names are. I tell him their name is Lenore, which is from a poem that Daddy likes and will tell us some nights when he ain’t too tired to remember it and we ain’t hollering and acting foolish too much, which doesn’t happen much mostly because of Gene and Evelyn. Lenore is the prettiest name I ever heard and I asked Mama why they didn’t give me that name but she just laughs and tells me to go on.

I don’t tell him that the chewed feet and hands and the busted head are what made them become real. They don’t need feet anyway because I carry them everywhere. I am sorry about Lenore’s busted head though. I could tell him that she came that way, was like that when Mama found her and knew she needed a special little mother to take care of her. But her head was pretty then and her body all chewed up, left behind in this house by whoever lived here before us. Mama took the head off and sewed up a new body for her even with all the work she had to do cleaning up and getting us all settled here. Even though we’re not going to stay ain’t no call to live like dogs till we do leave, Mama said.

Lenore, the picture man repeats, and I can tell he likes the name too, and I straighten my neck, like a queen.

I could tell him that Gene did it, which is what Mama thinks though I never said he did and he swore to her that he didn’t. What happened is me and Lenore’s secret and it makes her love me even more.

What’s the other two’s names, he says, while he fiddles with his camera some more, asks me to stand over by Mama’s vanity. Lenore, I tell him, and he laughs, looks around the camera at me and then puts his face back behind it. All three of ’em are Lenore?

Well, I did want to give them different names but I felt too sad for the not-Lenores. It isn’t fair to give one the prettiest name and the other two something else.

When I grow up I’m going to name my baby Lenore, I say and watch the burst of light escape into Mama’s eyes.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – Daughter of T. J. Martin, miner. Koppers Coal Division, Kopperston Mines, Kopperston, Wyoming County, West Virginia. National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Rita Mae Reese has received a Paumanok Poetry Prize, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner Fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. Her first book, The Alphabet Conspiracy, was published by Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press.