Southern Legitimacy Statement: When you think the best meal in the world is a pot of pinto beans or cabbage with corn bread you have to be southern. This meal is what I’d find at my grandparents’ house when I came home from school. But the day had started with tomato gravy and biscuits and hot coffee that perked on the stove. My grandfather loved to cook and knew he’d better buy the groceries for my grandmother would pay for tomatoes out-of-season. So Poppie spent a lot of time at Moricle’s Grocery Store on the corner. I loved going there to dip my hand into he icy cooler and select a soft drink. Also, there were sugar cookies in a big jar, and Dreamsicles—I never thought about the name, but dreaming was a lot of what I did: day-dreaming. I had no idea I’d become a writer and such activity would serve me well.
Fifty-seven-year-old Sharecropper Woman. Hinds County Mississippi
When there are no doctors
you do what you can, a dime with a hole
on a string tied around each ankle
to prevent headaches.
Her bare feet rest on the planks
of a porch, her feet so calloused
it’s hard to feel splinters.
How many miles have they walked among rows?
Her hand touches the hem
of her dress covered with a soiled apron.
Past child-bearing, she holds her grandchildren
to her, on her lap. If only the headaches
would cease. All her prayers to make them stop
have yet gone unanswered.
Surely, the Good Lord can be trusted,
yet she’s seen so much misery, so much hunger.
Still, she washes as best she can on Sunday
to walk to church. She has no hat, no purse,
and carries a few coins when she can get them
in a cloth bag, and places one or two
in the plate, small offering to God.
Pea Pickers’ Tent, Near Calipatria, California, 1938
Someone with a sense of humor
has plopped a man’s hat
on top of this ragged tent.
A washboard leans against it,
and there’s an upside-down basket
with a metal pan.
The flap of the opening
is pulled back, but all
you can see is darkness.
At least it’s protection
from the sun, and if it does rain . . . . .
Come to think of it, let it storm,
let the wind carry the whole thing off,
and tear it apart, let the pieces scatter,
a testament to all who are still
coming westward, passing the signs:
No Jobs for Oakies, whose homes
will be shacks or a tent like this one.
Young Cotton Picker, Kern County Migrant Camp, California
What is she waiting for, standing
in the dirt with no one around?
As if she held all the weight
in the world, this girl with a cotton sack
several feet long.
She looks to be eight or nine,
eyes closed beneath her blonde bangs.
She leans her head on one hand.
In the background, the camp
and a jalopy. This child
should be at play or school,
learning to read and write.
Awakened before dawn
when the moon still shone
on the dew. She will soon
remove her coat, but will cling
to the sack, the way other children
might hold onto to a blanket
they won’t surrender.