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I am the granddaughter of drunks,
of people who pocketed dimes
pilfered with blackened fingers
slid along the edge of the bar,
who swung at god
and missed, who spared
no rod and seized each day
like a green broke horse,
who woke the dead with hard breath
and rage – a week's pay gone on long shots,
slots, or some drunken plot.
I am descended of men who lashed out
lights and cursed the dark, who hailed
disaster on battlefields
and in sawmills, who took up the grey light
propped against a copper still
in cracker pinewoods,
under tractor blades oblivious
to bone and blood, to the woman
who hurries over the hill, hair
lifting with her scream.
I come by way of people for whom
the creek will everlasting rise,
whose fields boll weevils plague
perpetually, who were born with bowed heads,
bitten tongues, whose backs bend
in the sun.
When the fever breaks,
when the bank forecloses
but there's a little food put up,
when the weakest dies
without lingering too long, or when death
blinks twice and turns away –
when the hag spirit scuttles from salted lintel,
whirls away from palmetto frond cross –
let us gather at the river.
I come from fertile girls bounced
in blind rooms from someone's knee,
who went numb from successive
hard landings against concrete floors,
into tavern kitchens and typing pools,
who stare down at skid marks,
at the split lip,
at gravy sliding down the wall
and remember the hobo-mark
scratched into a rock by granddaddy's door
tasked to shunt survivors from the train of dead
and whisper to derelicts and drifters,
to the crookbacked and dumb,
to another generation of trampled things
that aches to shrink from fortune's sleight,
to vanish among caddisflies and water striders,
in air over pine-pink and swamp cane
and tide of rising black water.
A Good Woman's Word
Veldon drove all day for this late honeymoon
and crowded dance hall with Jeanette
where a bassline tunnels up from
Memphis. Under bandstand lights,
he swings her out. She pivots
beyond his arm in a spin
the Ohio gals cheer.
She buys a lottery ticket –
Veldon's birthday – but it's been years
since she saw her only son
in the slant
of an iron lung mirror
and heard the doctor murmur divorcee.
So a dollar venture, a coin tossed
for luck are all she risks without a quick tease
of her gloss-black beehive,
Kleenex tucked in her sleeve,
rain bonnet folded
in her purse.
She won't squint in the sun
or pocket camera flash tomorrow
in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame,
shoulders angled and hips squared
like a beauty pageant queen.
She says a good woman stands,
three-quarter pose, in the blunt glare
of fate: a sick child's howl,
chaw of gravel under
brake lights down the road,
or boot scuff as the porch light dims
with a man's rising shadow.
At the door,
she arrives on her word.