THIS BLOG IS NO LONGER OPERATIONAL. PLEASE ENJOY WHAT IS HERE, AND DO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WISH. NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW POET LAUREATE IS CATHY SMITH BOWERS. SHE WILL SOON HAVE HER OWN WEBSITE THROUGH THE NORTH CAROLINA ARTS COUNCIL SITE. I WILL BE SHIFTING MY ATTENTION TO HERE, WHERE I AM, (SEE SIDEBAR)USING IT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WRITERS WHOSE WORK DESERVES ATTENTION. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT ME THERE. For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE.
Go to http://www.yourdailypoem.com/, managed with finesse by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, who says, "Our intent is to make visitors to Your Daily Poem aware of the joy and diversity of poetry."
Monday, December 8, 2008
Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl--by Shelby Stephenson
Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl
“An intense and heart-breaking poetic narrative which, in its exploration of historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and to James Agee’s classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Family Matters is a strenuous questioning — and exposure — of the fictions of ownership, whether of persons or places, graves or farms.” --Allen Grossman, final judge, 2008 Bellday Prize competition
2008. Bellday Books. $14 plus $2 shipping & handling. Available from the publisher at www.belldaybooks.com
(photo by Jan Hensley)
----------------------------------------------------- The Candy Man I
Came with his punchboard. I pushed out numbers for choice prizes. Once a month the promise went out over the countryside. The Watkins Products Man, too. Had a chicken coop tied to his front bumper. He’d take a chicken as payment, say, for horse lineament.
Did you work to satisfy your credit at Pap’s commissary, tense up when you entered the store? Did the farmers there court the drinkstand to give you room? Did you ever punch a board or trade eggs for pretty things?
I did have a Candy Man. I did not wish for hair to let down to dry his feet at footwashings. Sometimes I gave him an eyeful and lost him. In the fall when colors called my face shadowed his window. At dusk, the table set with fatback and molasses−his skin twinged until a voice sang for me alone until the tune went out of hearing.
Mr. Charlie Parrish’s Store loomed way up Paul’s Hill. I would walk with eggs in my pockets to swap for merchandise, lean against the colddrinkbox and listen:
Hallo! Heck, I garn-dam-tee you this: no ragged-assed farmer’ll get in no field today; tractors’ll mar up over the mufflers, I tell you− row a boat in the ditches down yonder by Paul Coats’s sloughs.
Tom’s Roasted Peanuts float in a Pepsi Heck guzzles. He’s no holier-than-the-learned race of farmers who’ll tell you: Workworkwork and what do you get?! Bonier and bonier and sloppy-assed in debt! Sleeves waving, he lowers himself down the sandy, shackly, wooden steps.
-------------------------------------------- George William Stephenson I
Greatgreatgrandpap George’s grandson−I called him Grandpa William−was born of Martha Johnson and Manly Stephenson, on the farmof “badlybent”George, off state road number 1517 in PleasantGrove, Johnston County,North Carolina. As a boy William hired himself out to Deb Wood to cut wood; helped his Uncle Naz, mauling and splitting rails and hauling them home. He picked cotton, pulled corn, tended garden, raised goats, too, hogs aplenty snuffling paths harder when he’d pass with slops for the trough, slipping in his boots on the hill. He moved across Middle Creek to Polenta, crossed the creek on a footlog, walked paths through woods. One dark night a goat jumped up, scaring the daylights out of him: “If the goat had not bleated, I think I would have died.”
July was born ninety-eight years before I was. Grandpa William was sixtyseven that year−1938. He split wood for thirty cents a cord. Got tired of helping Naz maul and haul those gums. Hunted wild turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels. Set traps in the swamps, catching anything he could: otter, mink, raccoon− one hide brought a dollar. A yea and nay man. Couldn’t read or write. Joined the church and started preaching.
And Grandmuh read the Bible to Grandpa every night. Grandpa would listen, for he couldn’t read or write. He couldn’t read or write.
You know that families moved in with one another back yonder, a kind of underpinning: Manly and Martha with William and Nancy. Martha had a skip she learned in Polenta. Nancy joined the church in 1910.
(Linda and Shelby Stephenson, photo by J. Hensley)
I've lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina since 1968, though I'm a native of SW Georgia. My paternal grandmother was born in the Blue Ridge, and I grew up wanting to live here. Where I am.
I've published five collections of poetry, the most recent 4 being with LSU Press, and have published poetry in magazines ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage. But I also hike, bang pots and pans around in my kitchen, and love several dogs who leave fur all over my carpets. I write poetry because it's my way of singing back to the world both within and without.