after Ellen Bryant Voigt
Out of the mouths of exiles.
Coalfields. Textile mills. Grandparents
who picked the sharecropping lock
and turned their bodies and their lives
into a new cash crop, chopped
up by time clocks.
Clawhammer. Creasy greens.
The hard R at the end of tire and tired:
Why do I pronounce on as own
and where did the melody of Barbary Allen
come from? How did it travel
the Serpentine Chain to the few
Cherokee who faded back
into the trees and into the bloodlines
of black folks and black Irish
who rocked their babies, singing
So slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly she grew nigh him …
For a long time, the diaspora
gathered around the radio,
curio cabinet of static,
where old songs were bent
to tunings new as the tempo
kept by spools of viscose thread
or the mechanical stamp punching
boot soles out of sheets of rubber—
whatever work it was that now kept
agrarian minds too busy
to notice the passage of time.
I keep the old ways in my mouth
and a scrap of flower-sack in the attic.
My mother and her sisters burned
their father’s paystubs
from the chair factory.
But I remember what I can’t
remember. How his hands
had been worked so hard
they sagged off his wrists
like catcher’s mitts, the two fingers cut
short by a saw strong stubs he used
to beat music out of a cheap guitar,
a banjo sold long ago.
1817 Central Avenue, Room 302
Charlotte, NC 28205
(704) 315-2131 (voicemail)
Office Hours: Monday-Thursday 10 am – 3 pm
Charlotte Lit is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, EIN 47-4988291. Contributions are tax deductible.
Cancellation and Refund Policy