Deep Fried Fortune

phyllisFINAL
Phyllis Terwilliger | She tried to popularize popcorn possom nuggets, but aside from some cousins on her mama’s side, consumer demand played dead. Her star resurfaced during the disco era, when she had a crossover hit with “You SOB (Sure Oughtta Boogie).”

Deep Fried Fortune

After Brooke Hatfield’s portrait of “Phyllis Terwilliger”

by Sandra Beasley

Hand me the cleaver, Phyllis asked her brother.
That woman chopped possum like nobody’s business,
which is to say,
nobody makes business out of chopped possum.

Albert saw what Phyllis did not:
tightening smiles, whitening grips on their pens
as Tyson Foods’ regional scouting team got a lesson
in gland removal. Scalding. Scraping.

Tastes great with A.1. Sauce, she chirped,
before popping the creature’s jaw so they could count
all fifty teeth.
Phyllis had always been an optimist.

When they’d been kids, running a roadside stand,
Phyllis squeezed the lemons.
Phyllis sweetened the tea.
But it was Albert who thought to charge extra for ice,

and watching her sift Mama Terwilliger’s
secret spice batter, he had a vision—
a handful of black-eyed peas, cast into that same oil,
bobbing to the top like easy money.

Thank you, the reps said. We’ll be in touch,
the reps said, declining to taste another nugget.
Phyllis wiped her hands on her apron.
Her shoulders slumped.

That was when Albert hugged his sister as Romulus
must have once embraced Remus—
loving, but already leaving,
eyes fixed on the glittering lights of Little Rock.

***

Artist Brooke Hatfield, for our 2015 pop culture-themed symposium, brought together two pillars of American pop culture that have strong ties to the South: fast food and country music. Riffing on stereotypes and bending genders and genres, she created five characters who tried to make it big in both industries, with disastrous results.

“Deep Fried Fortune” first appeared in the winter 2015-16 issue of our Gravy quarterly. The author, Sandra Beasley, is the author of three poetry collections–Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox; and Theories of Falling–as well as a memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life.

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