Annie Woodford

In the Dark I Light a Little Fire

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.