Stains


(I wrote this poem about my mother, after her death.)


With red clay between my toes,
and the sun setting over my head,
the ghost of my mother blows in,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze.
Her teeth, the keys of a piano.

I play her grinning ivory notes
with cadenced fumbling fingers,
splattered with paint, textured with scars.
A song rises up from the belly of my past
and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories.

My mama’s dress bears the stains of her life:
blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk;
She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow;
Its brilliance nearly blinds me.

My fingers tire, 
as though I've played this song for years.
The tune swells red, 

dying around the edges of a setting sun.
A magnolia breeze blows in strong, 

a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home. 
She will not say goodbye.
For there is no truth in spoken farewells.

I am pregnant with a poem,
my life lost in its stanzas.

My mama steps out of her dress
and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet.
She stands alone: bathed, blooming,
burdened with nothing of this world.
Her body is naked and beautiful,
her wings gray and scorched,
her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine.

I watch her departure, her flapping wings:
She doesn’t look back, not even once,
not even to whisper my name: Brenda.

I lick the teeth of my piano mouth.

With a painter’s hands,
with a writer’s hands
with rusty wrinkled hands,
with hands soaked in the joys,
the sorrows, the spills
of my mother’s life,
I pick up eighty-one years of stains
And pull her dress over my head.

Her stains look good on me.




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A Poem: Road Trip to Snow







Road Trip to Snow
published by Flycatcher Magazine.


I swear we will never find the place. A right off
Highway 41 South. South, you tell me, nearly 
pleading, softly praying, always south.
We cruise past corduroy fields,
freshly plowed,
grooves, ridges, rows,
pressed, creased,
like brown school pants across a summer landscape. 
And I ask you
when will we arrive.
    Too late, you tell me,
                        too late.

Take a right on this dirt road,
Curling into a day splattered among four colors
and no sign of a mailbox.
By startling the crows
we paint the sky black.
This is the place,
oh God, this is the place.
Look at the birds, you say,
look at the birds.
And
      I look, I stare,
                        I shudder.

I follow your footprints
to the back yard and watch
you peer inside where
a door is torn away
to reveal your childhood.
Floors collapsing, boards rotting:
A room, red as liquid guilt.
A boy, a brother. A father.
A pair of brogans.
A sister (you),
a daughter (you)
crouched,
praying under this starving,
broken porch.You. You. You.
The 1930s turned into the 1940s, you whisper,
    The depression
                        wouldn't let go. It wouldn't let go.

You tell me it snowed one day
and you tasted the miracle of the color white,
a handful, scooped up,
melting like hope in your mouth.
You called for your brother
who pulled himself from the silence of death,
snow dripping from his warm mouth,
a smile lifting his face, and came to
you one final time. He told you,
his little sister, a secret:
Angel's wings melt into snow.
Together, you ate handfuls of the stuff.
You tell me,
             I never tasted snow again.
                     It would never feel as good as it did that day.

Did you feel hope melting icy in your mouth
when I dampened your dying lips?
Did your son's voice cool your fevered flesh?

Did you dream of a snowy day in the 1940s
before you wore gray in your hair, and did you
savor the color white as you drifted away?
These thoughts come
storming at me like falling
angel wings after we
blanket you in the ground.

I brew, knowing the answers will not be found here.

I slide my car into reverse
but I can’t turn around;
                   I am stuck in a snowstorm.


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A Poem: The Cracks and Chips in My Soul

 
Look closely.  You will see a trail of footprints
leading deep into the heart of the forest
near the Alapaha River and another set
leading out, far from the first.
In search of my soul I
travel to the center of sacred life
to examine those things called righteous
and those things that are right.
I come here where death gives
birth to life to uncover the difference.

I walk so deep in these woods
the sun loses me under canopies of green.
I wander into the interior, so far from my own self
I feel wildlife inhaling my scent while
staring at me with the haunting eyes of ghosts,
ghosts who have captured this fair skinned woman
in a mason jar, dropped carelessly by a hunter,
and placed me in a nest to study
the cracks and chips in my soul.
I go so deep my footprints seem to find their own way,
though I’ve never walked this side of the river before.

And you may ask what’s so damned important about
my study of righteous and right.
Why do I soak myself in questions
and come here to wring out the answers?
Well, the urgency of this calling
has left its footprints soggy across my heart.
These thoughts are mine and I will
remain in this sanctuary where the trees breathe
with each whisper of wind; I will stay
until I grasp knowledge true to me.

I curl into myself while three squirrels watch in silence
and a deer trots near the water. My eyes
pursue a snake, splattered with colors
of tobacco spit, slithering
near the trunk of a pine tree
not two feet from where I sit
cross-legged and worn and determined,
my heart swollen with unanswered prayers.

Did I pull the delicate wings from butterflies
when I was a child, when I was nothing
more than an unhatched egg of a person?
I hope not, but I remember catching fireflies and bees,
holding them captive, my prisoners
in a fairytale war.

When the trees in these woods go mute 
and no longer whisper or rustle or dance 
or weep, I crack the egg to separate
the white of righteousness
from the yolk of what is right. 
If I must choose—and I know one day I must—
I must be strong enough
to take up the yolk.

I resist the urge to retrace my steps 
as I leave the forest.
It is good to make a different path.



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The Youngs: Eating From the Same Table




Young family eating at the table in 1909.


Descendants of Catherine Young meet for the first time at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture. Approximately 100 descendants and 100 visitors were there for the reunion. It was a packed house.


When Catherine Young’s 11th child, Jesse, was six months old, her husband, Andrew Jesse Young, died of tuberculosis. The year was either late 1907 or early1908.

Catherine dreams were to provide for and feed her children. She held on to those starving aspirations until April 1909, three months after a social reformer named Lewis Hine snapped a photo of her with her children, when she delivered the seven youngest children to the South Georgia Methodist Orphan Home in Macon, Georgia, 100 miles from Tifton, 100 miles from Tift Cotton Mill, 100 miles from the duplex at the mill village she called home.

Imagine what the scene might be the night before Catherine Young gave her children away. She and several children walk home from the mill, tired, dirty, and hungry after working all day. Seaborn, Elizabeth, and Jesse rush to her as she approaches, and they hang onto her skirt. She reaches down and picks up Baby Jesse and takes Elizabeth by the hand. With Seaborn behind her, she lumbers slowly up the steps and inside. Outside, smoke from the towering smokestack rises and spreads ghostly over the village.

Catherine Young and nine of her eleven children. Three months after this photo was taken at Tift Cotton Mill village, she gave the seven youngest children up for adoption. Several of the children had been working in the mill to help support the family. The photo was taken by Lewis Hine. Joe Manning spent years searching for the identities of the children in the photo. The descendants gathered Saturday at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture in Tifton, Georgia. Joe and Carol Manning were there for the reunion. The children from left are: Mell, Matty, Mary, Alex, Eddie Lou, Elzy, Seaborn, Elizabeth, Jesse. All but Mell and Matty, the oldest children in this photo, were taken to the orphanage.

Has she, in preparation for the event, put aside enough money to afford to prepare a delicious last supper? Turnips and collards would still be available in southern Georgia in April. Perhaps she has some sweet potatoes and has been able to purchase a chicken to fry. 

Or maybe she has nothing and can't feed her children a decent meal the last night they spend together. Love doesn’t cost money, though—not like food for a huge family of hungry children— and I believe Catherine Young’s heart is filled with love, yet tortured this night. I believe she is starved of hope, afraid and anguished, after a cold winter with not enough food, not enough heat, and not enough money to purchase clothes for the growing children.

In Tifton and throughout southern Georgia, dogwoods are blooming, shimmering gracefully on layered branches. Pecan and oak trees put out new leaves, and birds build nests on branches, and in bushes and shrubs. Spring, the season of new life, new growth, has tiptoed into the mill village. It is 10 days after Easter and in the morning Catherine Young will leave her children behind at the orphanage. I like to believe she hopes to give them new life. After all, it is the season of resurrection.

Perhaps she sings to the smallest ones and holds them overflowing from her arms when darkness wraps around their duplex on April 21, 1909. Does she dare sleep at all and close her eyes to her babies? I suspect she holds them as long as she can, and as they sleep she inhales, one last time, the scent of their hair, kisses their cheeks, and listens to them breathe. Perhaps delivering her children to the orphanage is the highest act of love Catherine will ever perform. Perhaps.

Eddie Lou Young is on the right. She is Dr. Earl Parker's mother. He never knew until Joe Manning contacted him that his mother ever worked at Tift Cotton Mill as a child.

We will never know for certain the events of that night or the following days. We will never know her heart, the extent of her pain and how scarred the erosion of poverty and her final sacrifice would leave her. I wonder if she boarded a train to Macon early the next morning with her children. Or did an agent from the county escort them to the orphanage? She certainly would not have been able to afford the train fare for seven children and herself. Help had to have come from somewhere. Catherine's story and the stories of her children are scattered throughout with the word "perhaps".

Descendants of Catherine and Jesse Young came together Saturday at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture, many meeting for the first time, 105 years after their family was torn apart. One handsome young man said in awe, to nobody in particular, “We are eating from the same table,” as he chose a few treats from a spread of desserts. He said it as a person who had never met the family members crowding around him and certainly had never shared a table of food with them.

We are eating from the same table.”

Because of the perseverance of historian Joe Manning, who was determined to discover the identity of the children in a Hine photo taken in January 1909, approximately 100 Young family members joined for the first time Saturday to laugh, share family stories, and examine each other for familiar traits and expressions. They ate from the same table for the first time since April of 1909 when Catherine and her children shared their last meal together as a family. 

Mr. Manning and many of Catherine's descendants were brought to tears again and again at the reunion. I witnessed a happy and forgiving family, a beautiful family, a family overflowing with love and reaching out with open arms.
Mr. Manning meets Dr. Parker, son of Eddie Lou, the dark haired beauty in the photo of the two girls at the cotton mill.

Joe and Carol Manning in front of the smokestack at the abandoned mill.


So how do we thank Joe Manning who spent years digging through the Young soil, searching through a family’s roots, when "thank you" amounts to merely 8 letters of the alphabet, 2 syllables, 2 spoken words? He would tell us the reunion isn’t about him at all and he wants no thanks. He would tell us it is all about the children standing in bare feet beside their mother in January of 1909 at Tift Cotton Mill village. He would tell us it is about family.

“We are eating from the same table.”


When it became evident there would be standing room only, the partitions were opened and another 100 chairs added to the 100 that had already been reserved for the event.

Published 3/16/14
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GFWC Georgia is Showing Its Many Colors


 


My husband, Richard Rose, had not seen Beth English for many years. He spotted her Saturday night and I insisted on taking a photo of them. Isn't she beautiful?


Genie McCook with Richard Rose, Jack Thompson, and Saturday night's keynote speaker Bill Daniell. He is also Shirene's husband and a good friend to us.




The women of GFWC Georgia headed to downtown Athens for the 118th state convention last week. We arrived in a flurry, ready to take on the business of our state; mingle and network; install new officers; cheer for those receiving awards and citations; enjoy speeches of keynote speakers; and look toward the future. We also arrived to discover the Athens Twilight Criterium, an annual bike race that takes place at night and brings 25,000 visitors to Athens, was scheduled to zoom right past the Hilton Garden Inn. To me, it added an element of excitement to an already thrilling weekend.

Friday night, we wore our team colors, everything from Penn State to Chapel Hill to Clemson to UGA. Our women take pride in the schools they attended, the schools their children attend, and the schools that have touched their lives. 

And then, on Saturday night, many of us participated in a fashion show, with women prancing down the runway, showing the colors of their passions: heart disease; cancer; autism; Alzheimer’s; and many others. Our women sashayed between rows with smiles on their faces, strength in their bodies, determination in their eyes, and laughter overflowing from their hearts, all the while emphasizing the colors of their passions revealed on their shawls, scarves, and dresses, shimmering in varying shades of pinks, blues, reds, and purples. Genie McCook pranced like a queen with an admiring audience cheering her on. So did Debbie Thompson who had recently fought a battle with colon cancer. And GFWC State President Shirene Daniell, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while serving her 2-year term, was the last to walk down the runway, to a standing ovation, her face bright with a smile, her body dancing with joy, a survivor and a leader.

Yes, we are survivors of many things in life: domestic violence; cancer; rape; heart disease; loss of loved ones; debilitating illnesses; financial losses; car accidents; depression; miscarriages. But we are also the strength of our nation, and we wear our colors with pride and promise.


With my husband, the love of my life.







Shirene with Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson, one of our keynote speakers.



Between the years of 2012 and 2014, Shirene Daniell led us through two years of triumphs and accomplishments. She traveled throughout the state in support of our clubs and our women, and she was somehow able to do it all while fighting cancer. I am in awe.

And now, the future has come knocking. For the next two years we’ll be led by GFWC Georgia President, Elaine Chandler and a team of amazing officers. We will continue to grow and give and work and leave our footprints across this magnificent state of Georgia. Our colors will bleed into the lives of others. Our love and commitment crosses boundaries and our works benefit all without regard to race, religion, creed, gender, national origin, age, or disability.

Our new GFWC Georgia administration includes the following:

President—Elaine Chandler (6th District)



First Vice President/President Elect—Ida Dorvee (5th District)



Second Vice President—Tina Daniel-Reasey (10th District)



Third Vice President—Shelby Holland (9th District)



Recording Secretary—Kim Sekulow (4th District)

  
Treasurer—Cathy Jones (3rd District)

The new GFWC Georgia President Elaine Chandler on the far left.



GFWC Georgia is showing its colors!


 


(If you were at convention and have some good photos, please send them to me at brendarose@bellsouth.net. My camera battery died and I don't have many photos.)

published 4/28/14
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