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Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections

Jake Adam York Interviews Sandra Beasley

University of Tampa
Published September 22, 2011


Poet Sandra Beasley discusses her food allergies, their effect on family and social gatherings, and her travels through the US South in this September 4, 2011 interview with Jake Adam York in Decatur, Georgia. She also reads several poems from her collection I Was the Jukebox.

"Jake Adam York Interviews Sandra Beasley" 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.

Interview with Sandra Beasley

Part 2Jake Adam York & Sandra Beasley discuss traveling and engaging with the “culinary South,” “traditional” cuisine, and more

Part 3Jake Adam York & Sandra Beasley discuss embodying other spaces and Beasley reads two poems

Part 4Jake Adam York & Sandra Beasley discuss living at UVA and the traces of Faulkner; Beasley reads “Making History.”

Text of Poems Read

Another Failed Poem About the Greeks

His sword dripped blood. His helmet gleamed.
He dragged a Gorgon's head behind him.

As first dates go, this was problematic.
He itched and fidgeted. He said Could I

save something for you? But I was all out
of maidens bound to rocks. So I took him

on a roller coaster, wedging in next to
his breastplated body in the little car.

He put his arm around me, as the Greeks do.
On the first dip he laughed. On the first drop

he clutched my shoulder and screamed like
a catamite. When we ratcheted to a full stop

he said Again. We went on the Scrambler,
the Apple Turnover, the Log Flume.

We went on the Pirate Ship three times,
swooshing forward, back, upside down,

and he cried Aera! waving his sword,
until the operator asked him to please keep

all swords inside the car. He was a good sport,
letting the drachmas fall out of his pockets;

sparing the girl who spilled punch on his shield;
waving as I rode the carousel's hippogriff

though it was a slow ride, and I made him
hold my purse. On the way home

he said We should do this again sometime
though we both knew it would never happen

since he was Greek, of course, and dead,
and somewhere a maiden rattled in her chains.


We all went in a yellow school bus,
on a Tuesday. We sang the whole way up.
We tried to picture the bodies stacked three deep
on either side of that zigzag fence.
We tried to picture 23,000 of anything.
It wasn't that pretty. The dirt smelled like cats.
Nobody knew who the statues were. Where was
Stonewall Jackson? We wanted Stonewall on his horse.
The old cannons were puny. We asked about fireworks.
Our guide said that sometimes, the land still let go
of fragments from the war—a gold button, a bullet,
a tooth migrating to the surface. We searched around.
On our way back to the bus a boy tripped me and I fell—
skidding hard along the ground, gravel lodging
in the skin of my palms. I cried the whole way home.
After a week, the rocks were gone.
My mother said our bodies can digest anything,
but that's a lie. Sometimes, at night, I feel
the battlefield moving inside of me.

Making History

All I know of the Spanish-American War
is what Virginia boys, kept safe at college,
etched into the mortar with their pencils
so that leaning against a brick wall
a hundred years later, I can make out
Cuba Libre! and Remember the Maine!
I don't remember the Maine, only
that a Cuba Libre is made of rum, Coke,
and lime. What I know of sacrifice is

the tin spoons that always fall into
my dorm room radiator. Cereal:spoon.
Ice milk:spoon. The world is lousy
with spoons. The world is lousy
with lentils, flash bombs, lo-fi, hi-speed.
Somewhere is a petition I should be
signing. Somewhere a parakeet is
driving a tractor, and I am missing it.
A pair of scissors is thrown and the boy

catches it with his arm, the blade sinking
inches deep, so fast there is no blood.
His roommate says What do we do now?
Pull it out
, says the boy, but no one wants
to be the one to pull it out. That's when
they turn the camera off. Some nights
I dream we meet: You have to help me,
he says. Cuba is burning. I reach into his arm.
I pull out spoon after spoon after spoon.


These poems were published in I Was the Jukebox (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010).

About Sandra Beasley

Sandra Beasley is a poet and nonfiction writer based in Washington DC. In 2011, her third book, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir and cultural history of food allergies, was published by Crown. She is also the author of two poetry collections: Theories of Falling (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2008), winner of the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize, and I Was the Jukebox (W. W. Norton, 2010), winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize. Beasley’s honors include residencies at the University of Mississippi and LegalArt, artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as the 2009 Friends of Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2008 Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poetry & Writers, and the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize from Passages North at Northern Michigan University. Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as The Best American Poetry 2010, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Best New Poets 2005 and she has been published in journals such as AGNI online, The Believer, Barrelhouse, Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, and POETRY. As a student at the University of Virginia, she met Henry Taylor, who later became her mentor at American University; when Taylor was a UVA student, he was mentored by George Garrett.

About Jake Adam York