Southern Legitimacy Statement Or, I’ll Carry Myself Back
Reared on buttered biscuits and fresh corn yet eschewing pinto beans, I am of the South. My people, as we call them, included The Originals, who also dispatched some of my other relatives at the Blue Ridge frontier; Ancient Planters, which sounds nice but means they owned other people for profit; and mostly offspring of indentured servants who may have fled Europe but also probably stirred up some trouble along the way.
I have lived at both ends of the South, fleeing after tragedies my native Virginia at mid-life (as all good Southerners must at some point) and splashing for any number of years in the briny waters of my adopted Biloxi before returning to Virginia for winter’s journey and the care of my aging parents. Looking out at our pasture just now, I see Muffin, not a dead mule but a lively donkey.
The road past Montgomery, the curves of the Tennessee River, the shoals at Hatteras, and primarily the ancient slopes of these blue mountains are my stamped ticket to the South.
Roland rustles through johnny grass in September pasture downhill from the old battlefield. He faces a rattled barn full of mildewed hay under sky which watched boys years ago rush opposing from weighted heights. Sun rays cast azure on gold until the drums began and metal clashed and the flicker flew, fast, toward the Dunker church as crimson soaked the ground. Rabbits ran, and fox, but youngsters strapped on boots and stayed. It's a funny thing, thinks the old man. We never talked about the wars. Nothing to be gained. But just over the hill here when I was twelve we rummaged and wrestled, we watched stock cars screech on clay and drank orange-ade under the walnut tree. We found minie balls and pocketed them, to show the girls. It'll kill you, Pop used to say. A minie ball goes straight to the bone. Shatters. They'll cut your leg off. If you live. Roland pushes back a white strip of hair, cleans his glasses. At ten, our backs bare on dewed evening grass, catching catfish. At eighteen, the Pacific. At ninety-eight, this field. Alone. He rests on the slope as dark sky clambers up the far Alleghany ridge. He arranges his treasures. The minie ball he gave Helen. The arrowhead she gave him, lace-wrapped smell of her. The broken bayonet pulled from a groundhog's hole. Summer's end, fescue fingers fall over in the heat. Stalks stand in clay. Red river streams over weary weeds. Homer painted war. Strokes/imagined hues revealed rusting shades of blood. My grandson's gone, and with him, our treasures: the bent silver lure, the orange bottle caps. Tulle tinted by supple skin as she turns her head to greet him.