Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I was conceived on a houseboat on the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina and was born in Monroe, North Carolina first year of the Baby Boomers. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. My kin, Irish immigrants to North and South Carolina, fought for the Confederacy. I drive miles out of my way to eat Lexington Barbeque, and belong to a band of pirates and sailors, Brothers of the Coast, located in Savannah, Georgia. I live in the town of Black Mountain in western North Carolina.
not yet flat
picks and jerks
at the last moment
with a drill sergeant’s
about face parade rest
march to the carcass again.
is inbred with
road confusion and
ignorance of technology.
The Flu Angel
Soldiers returned from the Great War.
Flu followed. Masked nurses visited
homes to take temperatures,
administer cold compresses.
The Monroe Enquirer tallied deaths
on the front page like baseball box scores.
Few volunteers could be recruited to take
food into homes. One woman
took it upon herself to deliver soup to victims.
People recognized her red beret cocked
too much. Residents who hadn’t eaten
her chicken soup talked about how she drank
gin at after-hours clubs and danced
with salesmen, leaned backwards close enough
to the floor for her hair to touch. Pots of chicken soup
later she died from flu herself, and with no
family or estate was buried in Potter’s Field.
My mother did not know her but heard
stories. Donations bought a tombstone
but no one knew her name, except to call her
the lady with the red beret, or the soup lady,
or flu angel. On her tombstone are carved
a beret, a soup pot, and an angel, but no name.
Beast so prehistoric nothing
is vestigial, slouches
across a road where no car
wants to tangle. Who knows
what possesses his pointy head
when he’s straddled. Like an Ice Age
Star Wars spaceship he launches
himself into the Caddie’s
undercarriage and is served
on the half-shell.
I heard B. B. King tell about coming to town on Saturday in Indianola,
Mississippi and sneaking
a drink from the Whites Only fountain. Sweet water. I first saw
Robert Williams when I handed out
plastic utensils at the fish fry my father threw for shop mechanics.
He stood beside
a water fountain labeled Colored. The only black mechanic,
he wore army fatigues
and a black tee shirt, just discharged from the military after Korea.
Sported a goatee
and sipped iced tea. I wanted to say hello.
He didn’t work
there long, Little Joe later told me. Bad fit.
1961, I drove to the public golf course with my learner’s permit. Robert
Williams led a picket line
around the public pool. Stouter, with a modest Afro, he now headed
the local branch of the NAACP.
I knew not to wave. City fathers closed the pool, filled it in
with dirt and gravel.
The next summer Robert Williams picketed the courthouse protesting
segregated lunch counters
at the Dixie Grill and Faulkner’s Drug, and black people forced off
Main Street at sunset. On Saturday
country boys drove their pickups, loud mufflers and armed gun racks,
around the Square. Spat
tobacco juice at the marchers. Mother ordered me to stay away from town.
I saw farmer-tanned arms hanging out truck windows, heard
An older couple from nearby Marshville drove into
Robert Williams allegedly kidnapped them at gunpoint.
He said he protected
them from an angry black mob. He released the couple, but the police
He took the underground railroad north to Canada and flew to Cuba.
Out-of-state newspapers printed
photos of him in an army cap with Fidel Castro, later in a Mao hat
when he traveled to China
to see the Chairman.
Robert Williams wanted to come home so years later he crossed
the Canadian border,
surrendered in Detroit and waived objection to extradition.
The couple from Marshville
had died, no other witnesses, charges dropped. Robert Williams
died in 1996
and was buried behind the segregated junior high school
where toughs went to fight with switchblades.
An all-white cemetery.