My Southern Legitimacy Statement : My parents began our family in Virginia, where I learned can’t never could, my mother gave me my druthers, and plans relied on if the creek don’t rise. Later we moved to Southbend Indiana, and finally to Southern California. As an adult I married a man whose mother grew up picking cotton and we moved to the southwest, where we live over yonder, south of the Great Salt Lake, the Jordan River, Bountiful, and south of the Timpanogos and Oquirrhs. Every year I introduce friends to the delights of slow cooked pulled pork, fried chicken, collard greens with pot licker, hoppin’ john, drunken yams and sweet potato pie with my Southern Feast. If you’re ever in town, come on by. There’s plenty.
Haint Blue: Our House on Teacup Road
Newcomers to this South,
we vest our days in realty.
With my Northern sensibility,
(level-headed as coldwater lobster traps)
born to reasonable browns, sturdy grays
this surprise of color charms:
(vaporous greeny blue)
porchrail spindles and fascia
picked out in cool watery tints.
And the notion–all delicious
Southern whimsy, all whispers of Gullah,
this particular blue provides.
Ill spirits (darkly covetous,
querulous as crows)
cannot cross running water—hence
the tidal shade–an illusionist’s conjure
against their dim and baffled anger,
the dire luck they truss
to reedy backs, shuffling
between thin walls of bone.
Sweet little house, pintucked
with fancy (salt-over-the-shoulder, knock-
frocked in country superstitions
(immodest as a sundial,
cicada song lacing
its summer drowsed brow,)
sports sills and sashes of blue.
one shade lighter
than Carolina Tarheel, dreamy
as late August sky… still
something thickens here…
The lilac air becomes
moths sift the darkness
with sugar-lead wings
and something uneasy frets
beneath the floorboards, taps the bed posts,
tips the brittle panes
of bluebottle wings.
This house an octavo of caprice
balanced among onion blossoms
Sea-blue will bar what wants in
from slipping through windows
(a breath of air fragrant
with wild carrot and rue
but carrying beneath
the scent of rot.)
At night something furtive in the eaves–
as if from bare foot to bare foot….
(soft bubble of spoilage seeps
up through cracks)
even in daylight I can hear them….
Do they gather in the walls?
I paint the entire porch –
on tight shouldered boards.
In Autumn I root out
a litter of mice, hairless,
pink as babies’ toes,
from behind the icebox. A foretelling
I paint the kitchen cabinets, with their thick
frightening hinges, blue.
loss after loss.
Broken crockery, (vows are shattered mason jars.)
refuses to set though I bind
it in layer after layer of blue.
Alone, I smother every door, every age-buckled
threshold in coats of haint blue.
Still they enter. Their shadows
black as Lent, hang on nails tacked
for the cat-pawed dead (corseted creak, woolen threads
truckle and ruck
of ill luck) oozing between boards,
up pipes and stair risers.
I slop pigment
down drains, toilet bowls, lather
the staircase (each tread
and nosing) in blue
I refuse to answer the phone
know its trickery for what it is
(they steal in, spidering
the underbellies of beds, tainting
tables with their blight.
A daily spoonful
protects from the inside.
My body my face
a greeny luminous
seablue. Haint blue.
My throat an Ogeechee channel.
My hair a rope of sky.