We asked the 97 contributors to the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press, October 2016) to send photos featuring the book in their home environments. Author Michelle McMillan-Holifield provided this portrait of herself and the collection in front of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Michelle contributed the prose poem “Quest of the Missing _______” (featured below) to the 212-page anthology.
Quest of the Missing _____
by Michelle McMillan-Holifield
Nancy Drew #19 Quest of the Missing Map: First “adult” book I read completely by myself cover to cover, no help. Third grade. As I turned that last page, a sensation overcame me that I could not put into words at the time, but what I now recognize as satiety, accomplishment. I swung my pajamaed legs over the side of my bed and, book in hand, one eye lingering on those last few words, skipped through the house. Quest: my mother’s approval. I proclaimed my emphatic Guess what? and pirouetted, pliéd, as I leapt into her lap. She knew my success. My intellect never a mystery to this woman.
My mother read the first 18 Nancy Drews aloud to me. Her devotion stirs me. Makes me wish I could have children so I could devote my nights to reading aloud to them a few chapters a night, while their sweaty little heads rest on my shoulder. Embolden their sense of adventure. Look up words we don’t recognize. Do all women want children this badly or is it just the women who can’t have them? In all my medical records, the reason for my infertility eludes me.
There are no answers, Nancy. Not to this mystery. My body has been examined. The microscope, the magnifying glass, all manner of invasive instruments—they’ve all been sleuths on the case. And I wish I could call you in, turn the case over to you, present you with the evidence: ultrasounds highlighting oddities in my ovaries, calendars where I’ve mapped out my cycles and counted the days from one set of pills to the next, the + or – tests. All. Failed. You work out the symbols in my mysterious ultrasonic photographs, and I’ll nurse the fractures webbing inside my heart.
In sixth grade, my mother would not let me spend the night with a friend, so while she chatted with my friend’s mother, I slammed my elbow through her truck window. This was an accident on purpose. What I mean is I purposely elbowed the window, but I had no clue it was weak enough to shatter at my rage. I thought: I’m jinxed. I’m caught. I lied, cried, told my mother I slammed the door too hard. Never mind the large hole surrounded by a web of hairline fractures. Never mind the trail of blood down my arm that started at my elbow. My mother: on the case. I was questioned. I lied and lied then later signed my confession in a letter I left on the table as she slept. My savings account was confiscated. All one hundred and twenty three dollars.
Is it a sin I have not confessed? Has the blessing of children been confiscated? Did I curse myself somehow? I confess that in my twenties I claimed I did not want children. And I have confessed that confession before God, aloud, and begged forgiveness. I am an only child, my mother’s one chance to have grandchildren; I carry my guilt like a too-heavy purse I can’t seem to put down. That yoke (I put it on myself) is burdensome. I confess I am not as good a sleuth as my mother: I haven’t been able to glean from the nuance of her voice how she feels to have a daughter who is less. Childless, less than a woman. An unsuccess.
Nancy, you are motherless. Does it feel the same as this: broken, fractured, jinxed? You are missing a mother; I’m missing a child. Did you leave clues in a secret diary? Did you confess you missed what was missing so much you splayed your body face down on the bed and let your screams soak the sheets? I confess I miss curling up in my mother’s lap, laying my sweaty head on her shoulder as she read and read until all the mysteries were solved. Quest: questions answered. Quest: to conceive a child would be as simple as conceiving of a child. Quest: to be less childless.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Here I am in front of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I’m the only author from Mississippi featured in the Nancy Drew Anthology, so I tried to capture a place that speaks of the state’s creative history. The Blues is an integral part of Mississippi and American musical history and Ground Zero Blues Club is owned in part by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle McMillan-Holifield studied poetry at Delta State University in the Mississippi Delta. Her work has been included in or is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry Review, First Class Lit, The Found Poetry Review, poemmemoirstory, A Quiet Courage, Red Savina Review, Vine Leaves, and Windhover, among others. She is an MFA Candidate at the University of Arkansas/Monticello.
Find the Nancy Drew Anthology at Amazon.com.