Alphabet Ashes by Catfish McDaris

Alphabet Ashes

Nappy’s dad John was a bricklayer. His mother Winnie was a mobile librarian. She drove all over New Mexico, lending books to the Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo Reservations. At first, Nappy collected feathers, rattlesnake tail buttons, and Pecos diamonds, they were quartz healing crystals. As he grew older, he learned to identify buffalo wallows, where arrow heads or bullets could be found. He collected small clippings of cacti for his grandmother’s garden from his desert adventures. Nappy collected wheat pennies and his grandmother had two duplexes, she rented mostly to Air Force flyboys. She started collecting stamps from all over the world from their letters. Nappy was soon learning geography from stamps, he knew Magyar meant Hungary. Nappy became a bricklayer, he had many side jobs. He went to Montgomery Ward’s and bought five electric lawn mowers with long extension cords. He hired his friends for a lawn service business and his sister Cindy to be the boss. Then he bought a pinball machine and set it up in his garage to earn a nickel a game. Nappy went through a motorcycle phase, buy low, sell high. Then it was marijuana into matchboxes and lids. Before you knew it, he had collected plenty of green paper with dead presidents on it. The law finally got him and he paid to get in the army. While playing G.I. Joe for three years, he sent his grandmother stamps from all over Europe. When he got out he traveled Mexico and finally ended up near Lake Michigan. He collected a few autographs, Elizabeth Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Red Skelton, Robert Duvall, Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs. Over thirty years working at the Main Post Office in Milwaukee and he read and wrote poetry to try to keep his sanity. He was collected by a Mexican wife of thirty-three years and they had a twenty-nine-year-old daughter. Published here, rejected there, chapbooks, fat books, anthologies, broadsides, archives at a college: it’s all become alphabet soup. He remained his biggest fan. In the end he thought all you collect are memories and what are they worth?

Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. His work is at the Special Archives Collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is listed in Wikipedia. His ancestors were related to Wilma Mankiller from the Cherokee Nation. Currently he’s selling wigs in Milwaukee.