Monday, February 27, 2012

#22: "Haints at Noon" by Marlin Barton

~This piece previously appeared in New Letters (2009)

Editor's note:  This story contains offensive language.

Field Notes: Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) interview, Lottie Eppes, 97. Riverfield, Ala. September 12, 1936.

     These be hard times, sure ’nough, but they ain’t hard like what us had before Freedom come. I was born on the Teclaw Place, and ain’t far from it now as the crow fly. Ain’t never been far from it in all my days.
     Marster Will wasn’t no good marster, but I heard tell a worse. Us didn’t starve, but us got hungry some. Three pounds a meat, a peck of meal, and potatoes every week ’bout all we got. A little fatback and syrup. Maybe a chicken on Sunday if us picked enough cotton.
     Most old folks like me, they tell some, but they ain’t gon’ tell all what could be tole, just what white folks wants to hear. In these hard times now, black folks needs what they can get from white folks and be scared somebody gon’ take it away. Me, my day soon to come. I ain’t got no worry ’bout nothin’. What anybody gon’ take from me?
     So I tell what some won’t.

Monday, February 20, 2012

#21: Two Poems by Erica Dawson

~This poem previously appeared in Sewanee Theological Review (2010)

If I Could Write a Song

…for my grandfather, I would make it start
With Pardon me, Boy, old-fashioned southern tune
Of trains, trysts laced in satin, and the art
Of Boy, gimme a shine, New York and soon
A stop in Baltimore, a silver spoon
Set in the diner, ham and eggs, the clock-
Struck morning hour, one leftover moon.
But still the tall white pines whisper and mock

You: “Boy” in caps like “God,” so I’d rechart
The triptik, change our destination, prune
The lyrics back and make the song impart
Pardon me, Boy, is that canvas cocoon
A straightjacket?  And this brick-front festoon
The state asylum in Kalamazoo?  The shock?
The Haldol? Haloed, do you feel immune?
And still the tall white pines whisper and mock

Us; so, I’d make that bin our where-the-heart-
Is home, and sing there’s no such thing as loon.
Let’s make a break; and, Boy, you don’t bogart
That vodka now.  In a Midwest monsoon,
Let’s go to AsylumLake like a baboon,
Beating our chest and, let’s invite the schlock,
Polack, and every other nameless goon;
Yet, still the tall white pines whisper and mock.

I, then, would end our song with this: you’re strewn
On us:  Mom holds your gun but she won’t cock
And shoot.  Sometimes she hears a raven croon,
And still. Your tall white pines, whisper, and mock.


Monday, February 13, 2012

#20: "Other Fine Gifts" by Jeffrey N. Johnson

~This piece previously appeared in The Evansville Review (2007)
            Last year, despite the problems at home, I was intent on celebrating the season. I took solace in the city and all its festivity, each afternoon stealing an hour after classes to wander the downtown streets in search of the perfect gift. The lampposts trailing down Wisconsin Avenue were garnished with frozen wreaths and red ribbon, and the happy and hurried faces of shoppers blew by like snowflakes in a storm. As I joined a flow of people in front of the bookstore and pushed into the vestibule, a blast of hot air washed over me, but I was suddenly warmed on the inside by a familiar face – an old college flame twenty years removed from my life stood before me with little silver bells dangling from her ears. We stood toe-to-toe like wooden dolls and blinked at each other.
            “Oh my God,” she said. “Roger Loughlin?”
            But for the crow’s feet, Loren possessed the same appeal, both the sexual and the intangible, as she did in college. Her hair bounced lightly on her shoulders and she wore a long cashmere coat that somehow managed to show her figure. She looked like she would drop her bags to hug me, but held on as if she carried some fragile gift. Instead, she grabbed my arm and raised her cheek to mine in a kind of mock kiss that didn’t seem to leave either of us satisfied.

Monday, February 6, 2012

#19: "Shades" by R.T. Smith

~This poem previously appeared in The Sewanee Review (2009)


When Odysseus descended to the underworld
and crossed the dark river to learn the key
to his destiny, he poured the ritual milk and honey,
the wine and barley and blood to summon the dead,
but he never expected to find his mother among
the shadows who were filled with mist and sifted
with the wind which had no source.  He had thought
her alive and back in Ithaca expecting his return.
He had assumed the worst ordeals were his own. 
But when he reached out, shivering as he wept,
to embrace the ghost, that wanderer found
no substance, no flesh nor blood nor bone,
and he must have felt as I did that first time home
when my mother’s mind had begun to wander
and she disremembered not only the laughter,
the lightning-struck chinaberry, the sunset
peaches and fireflies and the sharp smell
of catfish frying, but also her name and the fact
that she was sitting in her kitchen of fifty years
beside my father who stood there straining
not to wring his hands or surrender to the tears
welling around his eyes.  She gathered her purse
her hat and wrap, then said, Please drive me home
before strangers take every damned thing I own.
Her eyes glaucous with terror, she was exhausted
and desperate, almost herself “an empty, flitting
shade,” as Homer says it, uncertain in her haze
whether she was moving toward or away
from what might be called the Great Dream.
When she sobbed and cried, Where is my son?
I, too, felt bewildered, and not even a seer
from the land of night and frost and smoke
could tell me what words would amount
to comfort nor which constellation to steer by,
nor where all this heart sorrow might end.