Marianne Mersereau: Poetry : April 2020


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in the Cumberland Mountains in the Heart of Appalachia on Virginia’s Crooked Road near the border of Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina. My dad was a tobacco farmer, my brothers were loggers, and my uncle died of Black Lung Disease from his work in the coalmines. I am a graduate of the University of Virginia at Wise.

Bees and Tobacco

We see the small cubes on stands
and they appear to us
as miniature stoves, refrigerators, sinks.
We pretend they are toys
and approach to play house.
Opening the door, angry bees fly out.
Like hot grease
they sting our skin
and we run screaming down to the field
where daddy hoes corn
while chewing King Edward tobacco.
He pulls a wad from his mouth,
and puts it on the stings:
the mix of saliva and nicotine
heals all our pain.

Pocket Knife

I am a child of eight
playing outside all day
among the insects:
praying mantis, butterflies,
leeches in the creek
“lightning bugs” and a tick
sinking into my scalp.

Daddy sees this dark parasite
in my sun-bleached hair,
pulls from his overall pocket
the Barlow knife
with two blades.
It has cut hay bale twine
whittled poplar sticks
plucked dandelions
and the flowering tops of Burley tobacco.

With the sharp tip, he cuts the tick from my head
and I don’t feel a thing
as I watch him drown the pest
in a pool of rubbing alcohol,
wiping the knife blade clean.

Barn Swing

We strung hay
bale twine from the barn rafters
and fashioned a seat for our swing from an old
empty bag of fertilizer. Pumping our legs hard, we came
eye to eye with the tiny sleeping owl, swallow nests and a million
spider webs, met the scent of dried manure, hay,
tobacco and tractor grease, learned to
count how many lifts the string
would allow and how to fall
so we could get back up
and do it again.