Tennessee-based poet Darnell Arnoult reads her poem "Work" from What Travels With Us.
"Work" is part of the Poets in Place series, a Research Collaboration in the Humanities initiative funded through Emory University’s Presidential Woodruff Fund, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost. Series producers are Natasha Trethewey and Allen Tullos.
This poem was filmed at the Glencoe Mill in Glencoe, North Carolina in Fall 2005 by Chris Simms and Tom Rankin from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
You wake up knowing you'll work.
You don't worry that circumstances will hurt
your chances to choose your labor. It seems
your choice is made. Reams
of fabric undergird your life. But fate may
lead you down a surprising path. One day
you may wake up and find you had more choices
than you knew. You leave your bed, your home, with voices
carried in your head of who you leave behind. Here
you live out your path with collective memory. Veneer
line — I worked for three months between Lejeune
and college. After two babies. Worked to the tune
of minimum wage, ten-hour days, and culled furniture. Once I went
into the deafening grind and buzz of the machine room. My only factory stint.
Never set foot in a towel mill. But that doesn't matter.
I dreamed my mother's and grandmother's dreams. Dreams of clatter
and snap, of doffers and fixers, of motion. I dream thread streaming from cotton icicles
mounted on frames. Spinning dripping cones feeding hungry looms that pulse and
as they weave. Shuttles throwing thread. Clack-thump. Clack-thump.
Hammering sirens sing fiber into endless reams of cloth. Clack-thump.
Whir. Whir. Whir. Fibrous colors drape the architecture
of my sleep. Clacking and whirring lift louder and louder to rapture.
About the Author
Darnell Arnoult was born in Martinsville, Virginia in 1955 to a Baptist beautician from Draper, North Carolina and a Catholic architect from Memphis, Tennessee. During her junior year year of high school, she developed a love of reading and decided to become a writer. Shortly after her decision, Arnoult got married and became the mother to two children. By twenty-five, she was divorced and a single parent. Arnoult supported her family for nineteen years through a series of odd jobs, from delivering newspapers, changing headings on library cards, and cleaning houses, to working as a chair-side dental assistant, a secretary in an occupational therapy unit, and a counselor to prisoners in a minimum-security facility. She received a BA in American Studies with a concentration in Southern Folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She served as an arts and education administrator at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, receiving her MA in English and Creative Writing from North Carolina State University. While in North Carolina, Arnoult published several short stories and poems and taught creative writing for the Duke Short Course Program and the Duke Writers Workshop.
Arnoult lived the first nineteen years of her life in the foothills of Virginia—Martinsville, Danville, Fieldale, and Bassett. She then passed the next twenty-five years in North Carolina, in the Chapel Hill and Durham area, with a short stint at Camp Lejeune and a year in Irmo, South Carolina. On April Fool's Day 2000, she married a cowboy and moved to middle Tennessee, where her husband encouraged her to ride horses and to write full time. At the age of forty-nine, she became a grandmother and published author, when What Travels With Us, her first book of poems, was released by Louisiana State University Press. What Travels With Us is the winner of the 2005 Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association and Berea College, as well as the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Poetry Book of the Year. Her first novel, Sufficient Grace, debuted in June 2006, shortly after her fiftieth birthday. Arnoult now lives in Brush Creek, Tennessee.
Cover Image Attribution:Inside an old window at the Glencoe Mill, December 7, 2008. Photograph by Flickr user Chris Smart. Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Arnoult, Darnell. Sufficient Grace. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Arnoult, Darnell. What Travels With Us. Baton Rouge, LA: Lousiana State University Press, 2005.
Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, and James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, et al. Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Roscigno, Vincent J. and William F. Danaher. The Voice of Southern Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Tullos, Allen. Habits of Industry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
The Uprising of '34, Dir. George Stoney, Judith Helfand, Susanne Rostock (First Run Icarus Films, 1995)
Official Website of Darnell Arnoult