Southern Legitimacy Statement Born and raised in Caldwell County, North Carolina, I have lived in the Old North State most of my life (except for two soggy years in Oregon — what was I thinking?). I am the youngest of three sisters raised in our Mama’s beauty shop, which was attached to the house by a breezeway. When Mama wasn’t looking, I would eavesdrop on the women and sneak a pack of nabs from the shop’s snack jar and Sun Drop from the drink box. I’m sure Mama never knew.
Duchess, A German Shepherd Dog
Faithful guardian of the beauty shop,
as dignified and noble as her name,
she barked fiercely at the oil-spattered men
in the mechanics shop across the street,
men who hooted at Mama’s customers
and carried on like drunk monkeys.
The beauty supply salesman would stay
in his car until Mama pulled Duchess away,
good girl with her huge paws on the window,
snout inches from the man’s terror-stricken face
as she slobbered on the glass and growled
with the ferocity of a woman scorned.
She chased off more than one husband
come to fetch his wife, the customers
carrying on as they pressed rolled towels
to their dye-dripping hairlines, laughing,
wiping tears from their eyes, even that wife
who, amused, watched her man scramble.
But Duchess greeted each weary woman
with a gentle nudge and wagging tail,
bade them good-bye as they left the shop
standing straighter and freshly styled
with hair in tight buns or towering beehives
— then took her post and watched for men.
Through the Mill Village, 1973
When my best friend and I were 13,
we biked on narrow back roads
without shoulders, cars coming close,
as we dodged cola cans and other trash,
swerved into the ditch sometimes,
and headed to the mill village.
We pedaled faster there, thrilled
by possibilities we didn’t understand,
having been told by our mothers
not to go through the mill village,
where on weekends men squatted
on porches and smoked cigarettes,
legs spread wide, elbows on knees.
Tired eyes watched our tanned legs
pump the pedals, teasing the fringe
of cut-off jeans, our long ponytails
swaying side to side with each push.
“Lordy, those poor people ain’t got
a pot to piss in,” said our mothers.
At school, we ignored those kids
from the mill village, steering wide
of their neatly patched clothes and
hand-me-down shoes, leaving them
to eat their meager lunches together.
Old elms canopied the mill village,
the shade a relief from the stagnant,
humid air and hot sun, the road
through as long as a football field,
shotgun shacks sulking on each side.
The plain plank houses were tidy,
sheets hanging as curtains inside
the windows — all without screens —
doors open wide to draw the breeze.
We raced clean through to the other side,
safe and glistening on our 10 speeds,
riding fast into bright summer daylight.
We stopped at our big Baptist church
beyond the village to catch our breath,
balance on our bikes, and joke about
those trashy mill people we left behind.