An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Ellipsis

White-blossoming trees
In front of the house

In Sparta, Georgia,
Where they together lived:

Free woman of color
(black, white, Cherokee),

white male slaver,
and their children

who slept with the mother
in a mouse room connected

to his rooms through secret doors.
He gave his daughters diamonds

Which they wore set in rings
On their toes, and hid in their hair.

Distant white relatives
fought for the railroad stock

when he died, and they won.
They also got the house.

You can smell the funk
Of the haints in the walls:

Mildew, semen, camphor,
Oft-handled bills, coin metal,

Cornbread breath that whispers
and swallows and breathes.

One day, as in the best
bodice-rippers, the house

burned down to the ground,
burnt down by the distant white cousin

who no doubt heard the ghosts
humming and fussing, rattling,

ratcheting, singing. Burn!
she screamed. So it did.

The fussing quieted. In its place,
Wind in the willows, a whiff of

something sweet, something sour,
something always in its place.

 

Published in American Sublime (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2005).

Published: 10 December 2009
© 2009 Elizabeth Alexander and Southern Spaces