Allison Chestnut : Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Florida, I received my first round of higher education at the last state supported nunnery: Mississippi University for Women, where I majored in music, theater and religion: like all professional spinsters, I can sing, read, pray and starve. I was raised on sweet iced tea and guilt: the house wines of good Southern establishments. I worship at the shrines of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Evelyn Gandy. I recognize that Saturdays from late August through January are holy days. I know the universal southern password: bless your heart.

The Old Gray Mule and The Airplane: Blake in the 21st Century

Old Gray Mule who killed thee?
Dost though know who killed thee?
Cracked the whip and chained thee
To the sweet gum sapling tree
Gave thee such a fearsome blow
Slipped thy hooves and laid thee low
Fetched the saw and felled the tree
To save thy life and set thee free
Old Gray Mule who killed thee
Dost though know who killed thee?

Old Grey Mule I’ll tell thee;
Old Grey Mule I’ll tell thee.
Not the boy of chain or scourge
The man that boy became did purge
From story facts of you demise;
To spare the children, kindness lies.
Old Gray Mule, God bless thee.
Old Gray Mule, God bless thee.

———————————————–
Airplane, Airplane, burning bright
In Manhattan sky of night
What immortal hand or eye
Could cause or watch impassively?

From what heaven, from what hell
Could the senseless action swell?
What great lesson could require
The sacrifice in airborne fire?

And what power, and what art
Could twist the airplane’s frame apart?
And when so many ceased to be
Did pain and loss reach even Thee?

What the motive? What intent?
A random act or of elect?
What the consequence? What gain?
Benevolence or evil reign?

When the stars did pale their light
And showered waters with the flight
Did God smile that work to see?
Free will absolve both man and He?

Airplane, Airplane, burning bright
In Manhattan sky of night
What immortal hand or eye
Could cause, or watch, impassively?

Norvin Dickerson: Poetry!

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.

[five poems]

17 HANDS

The big kid in class, I rode the new horse, 17 hands high.
Old Fisher thought
I could handle him. I threw up the saddle, saw lather on his back
from a workout. He jerked
at the cinch. Fisher’s daughter, Mary Lib, boosted me up. My mother
carpooled us that day,
waited in our paneled station wagon reading until the horses entered
the ring. Big Brown
and I marched second. All the horses knew the drill so I kept the reins
slack. They walked in line
to the far end of the ring next to Providence Road. We always trotted
first and on the correct lead
put the horse into a canter and cruised around the ring. Stable
horses knew the slap
of reins, dig of heels. My turn. On the first bounce up of the trot
Brown broke into a gallop.
He dashed 30 yards and fell. Brown had me pinned under his belly,
my head between his hooves.
I heard someone yell Stay still. We’ll rock you out. I saw my mother
at the horse’s hooves,
heard Mary Lib’s panic. Then the same man who spoke to me
told Mary Lib to sit
on Brown’s head. He rocked the horse back and I skittered out, dusty
face, a puffy lip
but unharmed. The man, a doctor, checked my teeth,
and my head for lumps.
Bruises started to bloom on mother’s legs. The other children were
sent off. On our way out
I heard a gunshot.

Kumatage

Moon low over pines
on Sisters’ Key, pumpkin

with its stem blown away.
Dark water mooring.

Wind ripples a thin strip
of light to our sailboat

Stops short abeam
but we know it’s meant for us.

Boat shifts with the current
and the moon changes its angle.

Every boat anchored
nearby receives its own beam.

The moon stands watch.
We sleep.

NIGHT TRAIN (Durham tobacco warehouse, 1967)

It ain’t the band’s fault
or the Flames’. Band’s tight.
They know I stare down a false
note, but these frat boys singing
along are stone deaf. Nothing happens
here by chance. It’s all choreographed.
Flight of my cape, sling of my sweat.
My knees sink to the stage, and I levitate
from inner thighs.
I can do road gigs another 30,40 years,
with help of the Good Lord
and a little herb.

A frenzy to fool them –
mike dropped to the floor
and jerked back then prayed
over. Escape from handlers
leading me off stage exhausted
to sing one more song hushed
low then screeched high.

My fans ask If you’re so famous,
how come the Law rousts you
out of bed? I point to the Free
James Brown bumper stickers.
It’s cool.
I’m not only the Godfather
but also the Ambassador of Soul
with full diplomatic immunity.

ARLEVIA

I had a vested interest in Arlevia’s staying as our cook. My mother
couldn’t cook. Arlevia later fed my three children standing
behind her at the stove waiting for pieces of crispy fried squash,
eggplant and okra. My youngest Logan still remembers Arlevia’s fried
chicken, better than Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte picked second
best in the country by Good Morning America.

I was her boy, greeted by a hug and smile across her broad face.

My mother didn’t take a cake or casserole when Laney, Arlevia’s husband,
died but she did testify at the funeral. Mom and Arlevia grew old together,
gardened after Arlevia retired. My father fitted a golf cart with a long bed
to haul plants and vegetables. They rode it up the hill, taking turns driving,
wearing floppy smudged hats against the afternoon sun.

Mom learned Arlevia had a stroke and couldn’t speak. Shortly after, Mom fell,
didn’t break anything, but knew she couldn’t return home. I cancelled
the Monroe Enquirer-Journal in person. The man I talked to followed me out
to the street.

Didn’t Arlevia Laney work for your mother? He told me she was still alive
and could speak a little. I said, Mom, you should call Arlevia. She replied, I can’t.
We need to remember each other strong, working in the garden.

Growing vegetables, not becoming one.

CRYSTAL’S FACE JUGS

See how cruel the whites
look. Their lips are thin.
(Chief Mountain Lake
to Carl Jung, 1932)
One of her biblical lions –
ready to roar, tongue lolling
between incisors, tail arched –

is exhibited in the Mint Museum,
but she spends most of her time
pushing clay into the shape

of bug-eyed, crooked-toothed idiots.
Slaves first made these jugs,
she says, with clay left over

from firing master’s dinnerware.
I can’t say, Why copy
something ugly, so I ask

Whom were the jugs modeled after?
She smiles, Don’t the thin lips
tell you?

Jimmie Ware: Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I love magnolia trees and the scent of pine. My favorite aunt is name is Nellie Bee. I made mud pies in red dirt. I was born in Grove Hill and it holds priceless memories. I am a female named Jimmie. I’ve lived in Alabama, Chicago, Anchorage and Arizona. My southern roots are the very essence of who I am to this very day. Deep down, I am still that little freckled face redhead kid, running barefoot on my grandparent’s land spinning around until I was dizzy and breathless.

Uptown

Six city blocks
Four hundred lives
83 cultures one high rise
Eyes filled with pain
No A game
On the B train
Ethiopian grocery stores
Selling Indian spices
Gang graffiti
Baked ziti
Laundromats and bars
Slumlords thrive
Crowded busses
The daily grind
Cities never even nap
Forget sleep
The beat goes on
Sonny and Cher were
Absolutely correct
Paradise was paved
Concrete is so unwelcoming
Flowers can’t grow
The Sun Times
The hateful crimes
Luckily the sun shines
Thank God for the Lake
Vast and reassuring
If I ever get out of this place…

Perfecting Chaos

She left the jalopy running loudly
Sputtering oil and dark smoke
As she ran back into the mausoleum of a house
Hurriedly seeking her silver cigarette case
Her laughter pierces the night sky
Tonight she will waltz with her demons
Serenaded by cryptic ballads in her head
Joyful confusion, temporary conviction
Gentlemen callers awaiting her wrinkled hand
They will whisk her across the floor
She will remember to be coy in a Bette Davis
Kind of way, she peers into a mirror gazing
At a strange reflection and she screams
Silently, for it is her soul in denial
No longer the belle of the ball
Daddy’s picture shouts from the wall
Mother ghostly presence screams,
“Who’s the prettiest of them all?”
Contrary to the fairy tales told
Pretty girls do grow old
Still there will be one last Mardi Gras
One last night of debauchery before the velvet curtain falls
She makes it back to the car
Carefully places a smoke between her red lips
She disappears into the February moonlight
After all the jalopy still runs

The Ultimate Ascension

It is the least of imaginings most deserving of our attention
The storms beneath skin no one is mentioning
Place your hurt upon this page
Begin the dissipation of rage
Romance is an overrated inflated lie
Love is not guaranteed yet we must try
It is not a novel with lovers kissing tenderly
Sailing on a river with a perfect honeybee in sight
Designer clouds whispering everything’s alright
Love is being there when times are tough
It is going the distance when life is rough
Not walking away when the option is there
Much more serious than fingers in your hair
Love overcomes fears, tears and the golden years
It lasts when lust is gone when the quintessential honeymoon is over
Love, more realistic than that elusive four leafed clover
The ultimate ascension deserving of our attention

T. K. Tolbert: Miss Geneva (an essay)

My Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Southern Ohio, where driving forty five minutes one way puts you in West Virginia and thirty five minutes the other way puts you in Kentucky. I was raised by good, god fearing Kentucky folk who ended up in Ohio to get out of the coal mines. I spent a great deal of my life in Kentucky, some in Florida and I reside in Alabama. I do hope Y’all are not just laughing right now, saying Ohio, or if you will disregard my work all together. I was brought up southern and taught to be proud of my heritage. Southern is not necessarily what line you were born on, it can also be who you were born to. My heart is southern, as are my morals. I am as southern as the day is long. When I was small I was taught to sing “Dixie” and play it by ear on the piano. I was taught manners and respect. I have taught my daughters to be southern ladies and my sons to be good southern gentlemen. My accent is thick because those that taught me to speak spoke that way. I have no formal education and I am not published.

Miss Geneva

The dirt under the porch was cool to the touch. I hid under there sometimes. The concrete block that surrounded me made me feel safe. It was my secret hiding place. I could hear Grandma calling me. “Tammy Kay Laurie! You come Right Cheer! Right now, if you don’t come right now, Imma gettin a switch!” she was screaming. I was sure everyone on Stoney Creek could hear her. It was time to eat. We ate early on Wednesday nights. Church started at six and my little brother Tony and I would be expected at Youth Meeting. I did not want to go. I wanted to see my Mommy. I thought she might come get us soon.

It had been hot all day. Grandma and Grandpa had gotten us up early. They always did. Grandpa would march through the house, clap his hands saying “Time to warsh yer hands and eat your eats.” We would always get up for him, whether we wanted to or not. I slept on the floor in the living room. Grandma made me a pallet every night when I stayed. She would use two cushions from the couch, she would tuck a white fitted sheet all around and she gave me a feather pillow. She would put down a yellow and orange-flowered flat sheet and a green blanket that had an Army stamp on it. It had belonged to my Uncle Frank. It was itchy without the sheet but if it was cold it kept me warm. When it was hot I would fold it down and just use the sheet. Grandpa would help me make up the couch in the morning and we would fold my sheets and blanket. He would hold one end and I would hold the other. We would both fold our end until we met in the middle.

Grandma would have breakfast ready and Coffee in the percolator. I liked to watch the coffee pop up and down in the little rectangle glass knob on the top. Grandma would give me and Tony a half cup of coffee with milk and sugar. A bowl of oats and toast. There was butter and always some of her black berry preserves. a little glass of milk and sometimes we would have sliced canned peaches. She always had jelly jar glasses and ice water on the table too. I loved staying there. We always had food. Everything was clean. We helped with chores but it was fun. Grandpa was more fun than Grandma, but I loved them both. I missed my Mommy. I didn’t understand why she didn’t stay. I worried that she would not eat. Mostly I worried that Daddy might hit her.

I used to like church until I saw them make Miss Geneva leave. She was really nice. She had big Moon eyes and Silver hair. She would roll her eyes and smile while she played the piano. She would sing along when she played for our youth group and I thought she was funny. She always had peppermints in her purse and she would tuck one in a tissue and slip it to me during service. I remember my Mommy crying once while she was praying. She was kneeling, down at the altar and Tony and I were rubbing her back. She needed money for rent and did not have it. Miss Geneva slid a tissue into her hand. But it had a hundred- dollar bill in it. She whispered to me “Don’t you let yer Mommy throw that away, there is somthin in it for her”

We were at church on Sunday night and When Miss Geneva came in all the elders from the church said they had to have a meeting and she should come speak with them. I had heard them talking earlier. Someone had said She was worldly and things like that will spread. Someone else said something about how she never married. Mom Warner said “A women wearin pants in the Lord’s house just ain’t a fit example for these young people” My Grandma said “Hmmmff, judge not lest ye be judged” She went to the front pew and sat with her arms crossed. I thought Miss Geneva looked nice. She had been wearing a powder blue pants suit with ruffles and shoes the same color the past few weeks. She wore a brooch that she called a cameo. It had a picture of a woman and a blue background with white trim and a little pearl on it. When the men came out with Miss Geneva she was crying. She was holding her purse and she dropped her Bible on the floor. She bent down and picked it up and said “I am a godly woman, shame on all of you” and she went out the door.

Everyone took their place and the Reverend guided us in prayer. He gave a sermon about the evils of the world corrupting our minds. He cautioned us against worldly ways. He said “If you cast your heart into the darkness, you will be damned to the Fire and Brimstone of hell, pray for those that have fallen and continue to walk a righteous path” Everyone said amen and shook their heads but no one got the spirit. No one got up and ran from one end of the isle to the other. No one called out “Thank you Sweet Jesus” No one waived their hands in the air with tears streaming down their cheeks, when we sang “Just as I am” they passed the offering basket. No one played the piano and No one seemed happy. My Grandpa had tears in his eyes for almost the whole service. My mommy always wore dresses to church, but not at home. I wondered if they would make her leave if she wore pants. It made me sad.

When it came time for church that Wednesday night, I hid under the porch of the burned trailer we used to live in. When they found me. No one had eaten dinner yet and we were all late for church. Grandma said “What do you have to say for yourself?” I started to speak and she said “Don’t you dare say a word, not one word.” I knew I was in big trouble when Grandma contradicted herself like that. Grandma made me pick my own switch. I hated to do that. If I got a big one it hurt, but a little one would leave welts.
She switched me good and told me to go clean up. I ran a bath and got in. and my legs stung. I scrubbed my hands and face and hair. I had old black dirt and soot all over me. She came in and seen that I was bleeding just a little. She got that old glass bottle of Mecuricome out of the medicine cabinet and used the dabber to put it on me. She took an old blue robe off the back of the door and told me to just wear it. It was too big but she tied the belt around my waist. She had me go sit on the couch. Tony and Grandpa were eating fried chicken and corn on the cob. Grandma came in and sat by me. She said “Why on earth would you scare us like that? What were you thinking? and up there at that derned old burnt trailer no less. We searched all over, we nearly called the Sheriff. Tammy Kay you scared the life out of me”. I told her I was sorry, I said I would never ever do it again. I promised her and Grandpa.

Tony just grinned and didn’t say anything. He was always in trouble, not me. Grandpa said “Let her eat somethin, she has got to be hungry”. I started to stand and my legs stung. Grandma told me to sit still. She got up and made me a plate. Mashed potatoes, fried chicken, corn on the cob with butter and salt. Sliced tomatoes and cucumber and onion that grandma had soaked in a bowl of white vinegar and ice water. Grandpa asked me how the corn tasted, he said it did good this year. Grandma decided we shouldn’t watch television since we missed church. Grandpa said that was okay. It was going to storm and he was not going to turn the antennae if there was lightning anyway. Grandma opened the Bible and started to read some verses from book of Job. Tony helped grandpa clear the table. I finished eating. and Tony came and took my plate. Grandpa came in and started reading from his Bible. Grandma got up and washed the dishes. I sat and listened as I watched Grandma. She began to hum. “Bringing in the sheaves” I fell asleep and they just covered me up. No one made a pallet for me that night.

May Jordan : Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I went through the Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina in 1969. I married a Texan from Brownsville, and you cannot get much further south than that. We had a hound named “Dog,” and a dog, named “Cow.” I am a published poet, thanks to God’s favor, but I haven’t forgotten where I came from or the people I still love.

Back Down
Memory of Cindy Bohna

It’s early June
while I saddle up Doc.
We are gathering
Tony and Cindy Bohna’s cattle
and moving them
to higher grazing land.
Cindy rides off heading north . . .
Three of us are plowing
through thick brush
and looking for strays.
Doc doesn’t go any faster
than I want him to go~
though I sense him stir
and tug against the reins,
wanting to join the others.
As I glance at tiny red
and yellow wildflowers
close to the ground,
a mule deer hides among
the shaded bull pines,
nibbling on sweet grass,
and lifts and extends her neck
listening to our horses shuffle.
Then she leaps off
like she’s chasing the sun.

My husband and Tony
reach a daunting cliff~
It is split revealing daylight.
Twin towers of rock upon rock
straight up to eternity.
The complexion of this ride
has changed. . . .
I know about bottomless bogs
that appear harmless,
but can pull you down
into the sinking mud.
The men start to climb
while pulling out cigarettes
and telling jokes. I hold on
and Doc digs his hooves in.
We lope higher and higher
as pieces of granite crack
and fall, echoing back down.
The men finish their smokes,
and the horses turn
and start back down.

Red Appy

I had an unreasonable red
Appy I called Sister.
She used to stand along
the wooden fence line,
cribbing and horsing around
like a stumbling-block between us.
I gave her all the love,
and attention
one could give a horse.
She was green broke,
and had a nasty disposition,
as if she was half-mule.
I knew that Appaloosas
were stubborn in nature.
So I found her a horse whisperer
because I was ill-qualified.
The time came though
when belonging reigned.
I had to give her her own head.
There was no room to agree
to disagree on her part.
Nothing I would do or say
would change her mind.
I sold her to a barrel-racer,
or so she claimed.
She was confident in training,
and taming any horse.
But the last thing I heard
about that filly of mine,
she kicked a fine horseshoer
square in the chest
with both hind feet.

FireFlies

As I watch
our granddaughter, Jocelyn Rose,
squeeze her glow worm
and whine for her Mama,
before she dozes off for a nap,
it rekindles memories of fireflies
during the midsummer
on warm and humid nights
in Hagerstown, Maryland,
when nothing else mattered,
except for our Father carousing.
We’d watch with wonder,
these winged lightning bugs,
flying about, up-and-down,
flashing their light throughout
the dark yards on Pot lickers flats.
My brother would run past us
hugging his glowing mason jar.

Our Mother’s mood would change
between long dreary seasons.
If only I could have been
a firefly pinned to her collar
on cold lonely evenings.
But on those summer nights
when the sparks of fire came out,
she was happy beyond reason,
watching fireflies glow
like they held tiny lanterns up
searching for their mates,
and knowing it was closing time.