Bloody Mary Ode

It’s one of those things Home is thick with,

so I keep my sleeves rolled back, ready to hit

back at shittalkers when they loosen their lips.

When I slip out to new cities and sit down

for brunch, there’s always one

of them at the table—a tomato-juice hater

who likens the red, peppered mix to V8 or

waterlogged ketchup. “Why would I want

to drink tomato soup at 10 AM?” one dickhead asks

and I’m quick to sling my Nana’s name back,

to let my saltrimmed glass clock the table

top—its loud thud licking the air and sticking

there like a song. A hymn, spinning itself thick

from the pews of our old church, is a memory

poured into each of my ears. It’s like she’s there

again, her crashing laugh made light so it can pat

at the silence in the sanctuary, the curved ice

of my shoulder blades rising from the seat

cushion beside her. “Nana,

where do you want to go for brunch?” As usual

she picks Bob Evans, the place where Papa

once taught me the word “sop,” as in “Go ahead

and sop up those runny eggs with your toast

before they take your plate away.” Or, no,

it’s the Village Anchor where we end up

that afternoon. It has to have been

Easter Sunday because they serve her eggs

with a Peep on top. Outside, flowerbuds pop

like baby chicks curling pink and yellow heads

out of eggshells. The day has already cracked

open, so Nana starts the round: “One Bloody Mary.”

It’s a refrain we all repeat, tacking on a “please”

and maybe “Make it spicy.” In the wet clink of glass,

we find a window into joy. Our lips touch the edges

of a smile, tasting a familiarity that’s as rich

as it is fleeting. Still kicking it at ninety-one.

Still kicking back her signature drink, red

wrestling against her mouth like lipstick.

She’s still missing Papa, her groom of 71 years,

so she asks to see the cemetery while we’re still

together. Before I drive back to Virginia.

When we walk her to his grave, it’s so

she can quietly contemplate. Peace, like petals,

settles over the scene. It’s as if she knows

—sitting on her walker cushion in the sun—

that she’ll go just one week later, her body

softening like ice that lingers in a glass. Wherever she ends

up, I hope she knows we serve Bloody Marys

after the service in her honor. In my family home,

we lift Dotty’s name to our lips. Zing Zang mix,

limes, and celery sticks swirl in our cups. Sorrow’s vodka

bite rolls down our throats. Red memories beat warm in our chests.

Caroline sits on a stone ledge overlooking water. She has brown hair, wears a blue-and-white striped shirt, and holds her glasses in her lap. Green leaves dot the background.

Caroline Hockenbury is a poet, nonfiction writer, and digital-media specialist concerned with consumption. Her work brings questions of environmental justice, animal rights, and Southern identity to the page. Her poetry lives in LEO Weekly, The Virginia Literary Review, and Virginia’s Best Emerging Poets, and her prose on Virginia Quarterly Review (Online) and in C-VILLE Weekly. She resides in Washington, DC, where she is an MFA candidate at American University. Find her online at