Alice Gorman: Southern Cross (poetry)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Dear editors, if born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t qualify for a head to toe, imbued southerner, don’t read my poem.For twenty years, I have belonged to the Live Poets’ Society of Boca Grande, Florida, where I spend the winter these days. We published an anthology a few years go called “Island Dreams.” I also published a chapbook called “Summer in Tenants Harbor, a long time ago” after I fell in love with Maine. Nothing and no place has ever replaced my love of the South, even as I am conflicted over so much that is painful for so many. This poem reflects that pain.

Southern Cross

It isn’t the food
I’ve left behind:
sliced ripe tomatoes, white corn
off the cob with bits of green pepper,
turnip greens cooked to death
with fat back and salt,
barbequed pork ribs,
dripping Tabasco and catsup,
chicken drumsticks lifted
from hot bacon grease
in a black iron skillet
cornbread squares
baked without sugar,
served with Sunday dinner.

It isn’t the spring:
the piney woods briefly laced
with dogwood and azaleas,
a flow of yellow daffodils
crisscrossing green lawns,
the juxtaposition of forsythia,
wisteria and pussy willow,
the roar of John Deere tractors
plowing fields for cotton
and tobacco and grain,
daylight lingering
longer into the night.

It isn’t the summer:
the June aroma of magnolias,
creeping jasmine and gardenias,
fireflies flickering
through their milk bottle prisons,
metal chains creaking
on the back porch swing,
an attic fan thrumming,
pulling freshness and cool
into airless bedrooms at night.

It isn’t the music:
the wail of the blues
from the soil of Dockery Farms,
the shimmer of strings
from B.B. King’s “Lucille,”
the beat of Jerry Lee,
his feet on the piano,
the swivel of Elvis
in his blue suede shoes,
the fire in his voice
that ignited the world.

I’ve left behind:
cracked concrete and broken windows
in abandoned urban schools,
chickens poking and pecking
at the scorched August earth,
bony yard dogs baring yellowed teeth
to deter drug-addicts
from stealing the lone TV
in a three-room fatherless shack,
daughters pregnant at thirteen,
old jacked-up cars left to rust
in kudzu covered ditches,
a breach too wide
for all but a few
to reach the other side.

I’ve left behind:
a line of shiny SUV’s
in suburban carpool lanes,
endowed gymnasiums and football fields,
boys training to succeed their fathers,
girls twirling to the tune of “Dixie,”
gated communities with armed guards
protecting inherited possessions
of people professing love
in Sunday pews,
then voting against it
in every election,
ladies at cocktail parties
in urgent conversation
about the Club and the Help,
a vise of voices
squeezing my breath away.

I am gone
from my great-grandparents’
blindness
to the sin of slavery,
my parents’ belief
in separate but equal,
gone from despair
that stifles the air
like old smoke
in the ruins of
burned-out buildings.

I had to leave, but
I will never be gone
from all that I loved, or
from the guilt I bear
for my years
of silence.

Nancy Hartney: Three Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement: My family and I come from Georgia, and while they have mostly died off or moved further south, I still say I hail from Atlanta. Great-great grandfather wore grey and fought in The War while my granddaddy was a used car salesman. My daddy was a dirt farmer and Mama a school teacher. Growing up years happened in that strip along the south Georgia-north Florida line on a hard scrabble tobacco farm. We raised hogs, corn and, for a time, cotton. I have lived in California, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas. Sweet tea is my beverage of choice for summer days. Bourbon and branch suit me any evening.

I’ve got two collections of short stories published, both set in the South: Washed in the Water and If the Creek Don’t Rise. My stories say it all.

Three Poems

Monster Truck Rally and Tractor Pull

A former virgin
Ruby Jewel Dollar,
dressed in yards and yards of white satin,
flashed a coy smile at the church guests,
curled her shoulder at the wedding photographer
and said in a slow drawl,
My new husband wants a honeymoon
in Missouri
at the Monster Truck Rally and Tractor Pull.
Camera flash blinded guests,
but not before they watched
Ruby Jewel kiss her man—
an open-mouth,
tongue-down-the-throat,
get-to-the-real-business kiss.

The Things We Collect

Photos, yellow and curled,
around the edges,
packed in shoe boxes stacked in the attic.
Candlelight wedding and four-tier cake.
Quonset hut, jeeps and smiling fatigue-clad buddies.
Once, a size 8 cocktail dress, black sequins,
Now limp, hanging at Goodwill with red stiletto heels.
Family portraits, babies, school pictures.
A red velveteen horse, threadbare.
Cracked baseball bat with catcher’s mitt,
and tricycle with pink handle ribbons.
Her mind scabs over covering the dishwasher hum
Reading again, Oh the Places You’ll Go to the kids.
His mind closes around beer and smokes and final scores
already turning to Tuesday and the workday, year seventeen.
Objects acquired, dream-encrusted thoughts held close
until finally, without acknowledging the years,
we morph into the things we’ve collected.

 If You Walk Long Enough (with apologies to Alice, from Wonderland)

Where shall I go from here?
asks the dog.
Why bother? It is perfectly fine here in the sun,
replies the cat.
I don’t think it matters if you have a good wallow first,
answers the pig.
Keep walking, pull your share of the load,
says the horse.
All roads lead somewhere,
states the cow and chews her cud.
The world is a marvelous place,
declares the spider.
Come, sit beside me, here in the parlor,
and I shall tell you.

Eric Sampson: Little Pools (poem)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am a native Virginian who has lived in Boston and Philadelphia. I am back in Virginia and enjoy connecting with my southern roots. I write poetry, short fiction, and I act, and paint.

Little Pools

In your deep moonlight
Where the sun and the little stars shine fluidly,
Achingly, in little pools of burnt out dreams,
In wonders of before,
Where your old daddy once danced, where you imagined a giant,
A man of alabaster goodness and calm kingliness,
Made sure you would stay protected, loved, and nestled for eternity.
That dream was lost for a time, you were thrown into a cold and desperate
Place, and the gods wept, even, and your faith was tarnished,
And gray streets of concrete and black tar filled your field of vision.
Sorry now,
Sorry is a futile word,
A despairing word and disconsolate.
But – those deep moonlit dreams still dance behind those eyes.
.

JC Reilly: Five Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up across from cotton fields in Shreveport, Louisiana with my Mama and sister, back when anything south of of the city that wasn’t covered in cotton was covered in kudzu. Not too far from our home was a rise in the landscape behind which the Red River rushed, and we’d toss sticks into it and watch them shamble down river or catch on a sandbar. And every day, even in winter, you didn’t feel like you were living unless the humidity wilted you flat.

Funeral Food and Ida Chatter

 

Grannie and the Widow step out from the parlor

full of mourners onto the front porch, each carrying

a glass of sweet tea and a plate piled high with funeral food.

 

As they sit in the swing, Grannie says, “If we have to gnash

our teeth over the death of my grandson, we may as well

gnash our teeth on Florien Crockett’s fried chicken.”

 

“Lordy, Ida, be nice!” says the Widow.  She picks up a drumstick

and bites into it.  “Is that Tabasco I taste?  And cinnamon?”

“Anything’s possible,” says Grannie, glancing at the chicken.

 

She shoots a dubious look at the rest of the plate’s contents:

tuna casserole, tuna-broccoli-noodle casserole, coleslaw,

broccoli-rice casserole, pork-n-beans, ten layer salad,

 

potato-bacon-cheese casserole à la Someone-or-Other

from the Church, dumplins, and pineapple upside-down cake.

“Heaven knows, the best thing to do when someone dies

 

is eat.”  Grannie’s laugh is cold as Caddo Lake in January,

and sharp as the swing’s creak.  She says, “Goldie ain’t stopped

crying since his fall.”  The Widow puts a free arm around her.

 

“Let’s do a healing tonight,” she invites. “I have new sage.”  

Grannie nods as she pushes her food around.  It makes a face,

a Medusa perhaps, but not good enough a likeness to turn

 

her to stone, though she might wish it could.  She shoves

the plate behind her on the railing.  She doesn’t turn her head

at the noise when it crashes to the porch.  “It’s Delhi all over,

 

trying to catch that twenty he won at cards that blew out

of his pocket and over the side of the KCS truss bridge.

He had about as much sense as a coin purse after tax day.

 

And Cole’s just like his dad.  Why, he wouldn’t know bright

if Edison handed him a lightbulb.”  She might have said more,

but thinks better of it as Mama shuffles out on the porch

 

looking as if she’s fallen into a well of loneliness and soaked

through with tears.  Not that Grannie minds talking ill of the dead,

just not where polite folks—and grieving mothers—can hear.

The Colonel’s Last Stand

 

Too wet a spring

has made Caddo swallow

its shoreline like a tide too set

in its ways to roll back out,

the hard Lou’siana clay

boggy, its sandbars a myth.

 

Even what’s not lake officially

sucks boots up to the calves:

Hawley Arm less land than sponge.

Grannie B says at this rate

she’ll have to row the Brittle Moon

past the barn to check the melons.

 

Today, what she calls

a “Southern drizzle”:  bladder-sized

splatters to drown you where you stand—

unless you’re one of the cypresses,

which haven’t the sense to mind

the water creeping up their trunks

like hemlines on a Flapper.

 

Not so this sage magnolia,

which minds too much—the magnolia

dubbed “the Colonel” after her Papa,

planted on a rise overlooking

the lake when her parents wed,

before the War—back when everything,

including the lake, knew its place.

 

And then—a waver of limbs,

soundless with the storm-whipped

water—the magnolia eases

sideways, slides into the lake to lie

half-submerged, a strange counterfeit

to the cypresses.  Muddy roots

pulled free push wildly at the air,

like bones in a mass grave, dug up.

 

Grannie B takes in the fallen tree

from the porch.  “It’s too wet

to cry over the Colonel.  Lord knows,

we did enough of that at Mansfield.”

 

In the lake, filled to the brim,

white tea-cup blooms on wide green saucers.

Brittle Moon

 

Three quarters’ full:  Vi in the back seat;

Lulah, center, rowing; Honey in the prow

barking at clouds and pelicans on derricks.

 

Cypress stumps stretch across the surface

like a hall of empty seats.  It’s not quite nine.

The bass and crappie might be biting.  

 

In reeds, they stop and bait their hooks with red-

and-butterworms.  Vi whispers half-a-spell

to make hers work harder; it shimmies on cue.  

 

The only thing Lulah casts is her line—

and muttered slanders against Vi’s taste in beaux.

Honey settles in to snooze.  As Saturday morning

 

darkens into noon, Lulah’s scowl seems to break

the weather:  Vi’s ease fades, a mist in the squall;

the fish like phantoms in the empty hall.

Bee

 

Grannie Boeuf Sibley’s wedding quilt

is spread out on their laps,

the one Mama should have burned

during the Fever, when Grannie’s skin

turned dulled saffron as the sun

behind the smoke from the cotton mill.

 

Stained from births and deaths,

from years of sleeps, its warmth

the fabric of memory, the quilt

hasn’t lain on a bed in years.

Too delicate for such utility these days.

 

The sisters have taken it down

from the wall, as if they finally see its age,

as if its blemishes seem somehow

suddenly to be corrected:  the hole

in the lavender linsey center star

has worsened, and Tallulah eases out

the seams of the block, pulling away

the cotton batting and the backing

 

with fingers gnarled as crepe myrtles,

trying hard not to rub away the fabric

like paper.  She takes apart the star

as if unmaking the heavens, gives

Vidalia the pieces who sets them

against tissue to make a pattern

for the indigo worsted she has found

 

in a trunk, traces out triangles.  

These Vidalia pins to fabric, cuts;

begins to sew tiny, even stitches

she could make were she blind, hands

so used to the in-and-out advance

of the needle, seams straight as compass points.

 

Star reborn, she returns it to Tallulah

who places the block back at its center,

checks for sizing. Vidalia offers the old pieces

to stuff into the batting; not a scrap

must be removed, nor history lost.  

 

Tallulah secures the cloth, secrets within

a sprig of angelica and thimbleweed, recreates

the stitching of a hundred years past.

The star is not for wishing on.

Tallulah Brings Home News

 

At Dixon’s Dry, I was standing

by the sour ball jars and horehound

drops.  (I had a nickel, from when I helped

Grannie with the weeding—but I only

planned to spend a penny, honest, Mama.)

Good Christian Mrs. Crockett strolled in,

wrapped in that fox stole she always wears,

even in the heat, and like I wasn’t even

standing ahead of her, ordered three yards

 

of flannel bunting and blue ribbon.

Mr. D brought down the bolt,

shot me a sad ol’ sorry look, and asked

what the good word was. Well, you know

she’s about as likely to leak a secret

as the Red is to jump its banks after

a gullywasher.  Seems that Larasue Buckelew,

 

who’s supposed to marry in the summer,

is pushing up her wedding to Valentine’s Day,

as if good Christian folks won’t notice her skirts

being let out like circus tents.  I said

I thought Valentine’s a much sweeter day

to get hitched, ‘cause Larasue could wear pink

for her wedding gown and trim it with red

rosettes.  But Mrs. Crockett’s expression

 

withered like the watermelon vines behind

Grannie’s barn, said there’s only one reason

a girl won’t wear white, and wasn’t it

a shame, a scandal, an abomination

in a good Christian family?  Why,

Larasue was lucky she wasn’t being sent away

to the Sisters, and she’s a Baptist.  Mrs. Crockett

made us swear we wouldn’t tell just as Mr. D

 

finished cutting the cloth and wrapping it

in butcher paper.  He wouldn’t gossip

anyhow—those Dixons are quiet as river

stones—and I said if I spoke a word of it

the Lord should smite me where I stand.

That’s why I stopped at Holy Trinity on the way

and pre-confessed my loose tongue.

God can’t do a thing to me now.

 

Charles Kersey: Three Poems (poetry)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in the South, deeper, in fact, than my father and mother, both of who relocated from southern Georgia and southern Mississippi respectively. I attended college in Charleston, South Carolina, at The Citadel which, contrary to the experience of most alumnae, widened my worldview. Thus, I am now one of the rarest of creatures: a liberal Florida native.

Laurel, Mississippi – 1984

The oppressive humid heat
seems to wash the dirt
and smoky grime out
of the air, through my clothes,
and into my very soul.

Driving down the broken streets
I notice the broken stares.
At the old intersection,
a decrepit drink machine
forlornly returns an old man’s gaze
as a mangy dog chases
Today’s News away from
the ancient gas pumps.

A stray breeze blows through
the open window of the truck
and carries the sickly sweet smell
of decay and memory.

I search for Moreland –Wood Hall
and the Delta Cabana Country Day School.
The Laurels of my memory are
nowhere to be found
among the dirty, dusty delta countryside.

Sighing with the surroundings
I stop at the old
Union 76 station and the
attendant slowly shuffles to the pump
to discuss and cuss the Summer weather.

The pump clicks off and I pay the man.

As I drive out of town
I watch the rearview mirror for some sign…
but Laurel fades into the dust.

But I know then, I will always
be back—whenever I am near—
to search, again, for the forgotten
memories of things and times
that never were.

******************

Biltmore Backyard

In the Autumn mornings
I often feel a chill
that’s more than just the
weather and breeze
coming up the
French Broad River.

The tenuous misty
fog hugs the ground
between the hills,
drifting among the trees
in a silent flow.

I see shapes in the
corners of my eyes,
aimless, lost ghosts
wandering through the
wood, searching for
their resting place
these many years on.

***************

Summer Sets

As I sit here, contemplating
the fine and brilliant edge
on which my thoughts rest,
I slide down; slowly;
slashed in two by
the intensity and indifference
of desire and hatred——
raging fires within my
blackened, charred heart.

The days are longer now—
steel heat and polished laughter
in the faces of death
and transition.

Ah——
Summer sets . . .
moan the passing and
skip the Autumn and
fall, straight down
into Winter and
bitter, freezing warmth.