Monday, October 20, 2014

Keep On the Sunny Side [poem]

Keep On the Sunny Side

hit weren't but five dollars i give 'im
an he went an took an turned at
inta-tweny so nex-night i went out
with'im an we had us a good time
down at the jolly barn. use-tah
be a real barn on a real farm, before
Mary lost her kids and shrivel up
like nothin' you seen, jus cross
her hands over her chess and die.
she didn' care, didn' make no
plannin', so her brother, he jus did
the best he could, which he never
had a mind for gardenin' at-tall,
but he like to drink, an it surprised
us all when he made somethin'
useful of it, open up a honky tonk
we all could enjoy, and we all did,
we all enjoyed it, meetin' there
on a Saturday night, hit was real fun.
like i said, Jessup, he took my five
and made a profit, an took me
to town for a new cotton dress
an then to the barn and me I had
my figurin's, but Lord knows
i didn' ask no questions, I jus
let the Lord provide as He sees fit,
by whoever He provides it an by
what means. who am i to question?



I took a walk just before I wrote this poem, and listened to the song posted in the clip above.  Bluegrass and country music feel like a part of me, and whenever I listen to it, I’m taken back to some home I carry in my heart, but haven’t ever really experienced except in witness from the fringe. 

I am both deeply connected to and shamefully ignorant of my own Southern culture, as well as other cultures that exist across the South.  The blame for this goes to a mixture of my own laziness and inattention, a cracked and broken nuclear family, as well as a silent and sore extended family, not to mention an influx of stereotype perpetuated by both mainstream America’s media as well as the South itself, usually, in the case of the latter, to promote business and gain profit from the former. 

My connection to the South can be easily held in the hand of my relationship to my family (grandparents, aunts, uncles on both maternal and paternal sides)  – they’ve made their mark on me, I favor them, I speak a similar tongue, but there’s a distance, a lack of knowledge and understanding.  There’s recipes and hymns I don’t know, even though my grandmother was reportedly a good cook and my grandfather could play any instrument he picked up. 

And even though my mother can scramble eggs like they fell out of an angel’s butt, and can make desserts look just like the picture in the book, I grew up on Wal-Mart and canned Beanee Weenees, listening to songs about quilts made by hand.  Maybe that’s the new South.  Maybe that’s why I’m so sad and lonesome down here half the time.

The yearning and ignorance I have resulted in a rather embarrassing moment during my time at Queens University of Charlotte, writing poems toward the MFA.  Cathy Smith Bowers was my mentor that semester, and I wrote a poem that was chock full of just about every cliché that you could imagine about the South.  Grasping, I rung every bell.  And Cathy, she gently, lovingly, clearly called me out on it.  And when I got her comments back, it was like seeing my own nose on my face for the first time.  And my face burned for days.  I wanted to slap myself. 

Soon after I wrote this poem, I read an article in the Miami Herald about white poverty, particularly in the South, that discussed Southern stereotypes.  I realized that this poem may be perpetuating the stereotype of the "hyper-sexualized young women." 

So here I go again, yearning and burning with ignorance, experimenting in this poem with a voice I think I may have heard from afar, once. 

It’s the voice my grandfather might’ve spoke with if he spoke much, or his mother, who raised him as a single woman in a time when that was rare. 

I often try to imagine the woman my granny was. 

I don’t think she was as wild as this poem, but I’d like to think someone in my history was.  Wild and lavish and lusty and fun and coy and still the Lord’s. 

A stereotype?

There are reasons that stereotypes come up, and continue.  Perception is reality is perception is reality is perception.

Out of fear, out of instability, out of longing, out of powerlessness, I myself have portrayed the hyper-sexualized young woman - as have many young women, not just from the South, but from all over (but particularly from the South).


These are questions worth being asked.

As for the mechanics...

I experimented with voice, and found out how difficult that is.  The spelling, the punctuation – keeping those consistent.  I fixed some inconsistencies in spelling before posting it here on the blog.  Also, choices like use of all lower case, which I mean to represent the smallness, un-sureness, brokenness, vulnerability, humility and meekness so often found down here.  The only words I intended to be capitalized were those that belong to the Lord, another inconsistency I fixed in this posting of the poem. 

Also, as for the Lord, I think the Lord gave me “Jessup,” because it came out of nowhere – or from the recesses that holds my ancestors, or from television – into my mind. I wasn’t even sure it was a name.  I had to look it up on the internet, and sure enough it was a name, and it means – get this – Jehovah increases. 

I mean, really.  What other name could there be for the Jessup in this poem?

I’d like to direct anyone interested in the South, or Southern culture, or really even people in general at all, to please go to The Hidden South on Facebook and witness this amazing project. 

This poem was written on October 20th, 2014 as part of Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project. 

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