Southern Legitimacy Statement: Dear Ms. MacEwan, I should not feel the need to apologize for living now in Ontario, for your name suggests first generation roots in Scotland, or at least Nova Scotia. My claim to a southern heritage comes from growing up early outside Atlanta before it became a “real” city (i.e., before “Underground Atlanta” and the Falcons) when I was around age 7, for about five years. Then, when I got my first “real” job, it was in Memphis, where I lived for 28 years, absorbing all the while much of the good, and admittedly some of the bad, of a southern legacy. I am a meagerly published poet and author of short fiction and creative non-fiction.
MY INFO: Greg Stidham is a retired pediatric intensivist (ICU physician) currently living in Kingston, Ontario, with his wife Pam and their two foundling “canine kids.” Greg’s passion for medicine has yielded in retirement to his other lifelong passions—literature and creative writing.
NOODLING THE WOLF RIVER
Just upstream from where the Wolf River
slides its clear water into the Mississippi’s mud,
redneck boys probe the banks
with six-foot poles.
July sun broils their bare backs,
water slowly swirling to the belt loops
of their denim cutoffs.
Three of them, young,
blond hair long, with wisps of chin fuzz,
pecs rippling as they prod and poke
in search of bank holes, the small caves
where catfish lay their eggs and lie in wait.
“I got something,” one yells, stooping,
reaching under water to his chin,
and like a lifter in a weight room
he grunts up from his squat,
water now a fury, his arm
thrust to the elbow in the mouth
of a forty-pound flathead,
his fingers curled out tight
around the fish’s gasping gill.
Endless expanses of fields of cotton, rice and soy
stretch from the river to the horizon
where the crops touch the blaze of setting sun.
It is said the delta meanders from the lobby
of the Peabody hotel in Memphis,
to Catfish Row in Vicksburg,
the rich black soil giving off its river smell,
guitar picking instead of cotton picking,
the voices of the blues still seeping out the walls
of juke joints in Clarksdale, Batesville and
Helena. The blues born here a century ago,
where the fields flooded every spring,
and white-hooded cross-burning lynchers roamed
until just decades ago: this land remains alive,
like the catfish wallowing in the river’s mud.
The cicadas’ symphony,
stirs the evening dusk
with the ebb and flow
of an insect concert.
The crusty carcasses
cling to the tree bark long
after death, like skeletons
in suburban yard corners
greeting juvenile trick-or-treaters.
Where do they go, these
and their basso-embellished backups?
Where do they go when they leave
their perfect bodies still
clinging to the sides
of southern oaks in Memphis?