By Tatiana Oroño, translated from the Spanish by Jesse Lee Kercheval
The Castaway found
paper bottle half-burnt stick or pen to scribble help I am here
and he was hoisted on the deck with his inheritance of bones lowered in the berth and his eyes closed like a patient in a sick bed and he was carried along like a boy.
They told him likethis better likethis on the soles the skin the hands that stretched the sheets said to him yesyes you must return!
The swimming of the ocean twin to the hull to the ribcage of the boat taught him at the heart how to swim how to survive told him the hands go from here to there as the sea applauded on the other side.
For this he was enveloped in the whisper of the linen dining tables. The tribe swallowed him up.
But that was the last that they heard of all those who found neither pen nor charcoal nor bottle nor you
“It’s a brisk October day in 1975. I’m 24, driving through Central Park with Gabriel García Márquez. As we wend our way through the park, and exit on Central Park West, I am utterly dumbstruck, afraid I’ll say something stupid to the man whose work, more than any other’s, inspired me to become a writer of fiction.”—Ghostwriting Gabo by David Unger - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Barbara Hamby:It’s a part of that choosing to be positive and choosing joy. I love Keats’s odes, and I love Neruda’s odes. I always think of my odes as being a combo of the two. Meditations on ordinary objects, but with the music of Keats. Or attempting those things because I could never say that I even come close to those two masters. After I started writing them, I got interested in the form. I tried to find a book about the ode form. I’m trying to write one myself. It’s going slowly, but right now I’m really concentrating on Pindar, the ancient Greek poet and his odes that are dedicated to the Olympic champions. They’re really beautiful and very different. Of course there are Horace’s odes in Rome, then the Romantics and Walt Whitman. “Song of Myself” is an ode.
One of my questions really is, why has the form lasted for all of these thousands of years? For 2,500 years, people have been writing odes. Why? I think that there’s something innately human in wanting to praise the world even though it’s disappointing in so many ways. There’s always that tension. We were talking about the role of woman, wanting to be free and wanting to be cherished, and in the world, there’s a tension. It’s so beautiful and it’s so terrible at the same time. It’s like Milan. It was bombed to smithereens and it’s still beautiful. There’s always that tension between the sublime and the terrible. The ode really speaks to that, wanting to praise the world, and yet part of that is the horror and the pain, too.
And it’s not really a form, is it? It was in ancient Greece and Rome, but now, people are writing free-verse odes. One of my favorites is Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Ode to the Maggot.” Its gorgeous last line, something like, “No one gets to heaven except through you.” I don’t have it exactly, but every time I read it, I get chills.
“My favorite photo of Caleb and me is a self-portrait taken on a beach at Ecola State Park on the Oregon Coast. We had hiked down a steep trail, stopping to lunch on smoked salmon and bagels, and ended up on a beach. The tide was low, and sand dollars dotted the shore. We scooped them up like prizes. We ran into the surf. We hugged. In the photo, we are both smiling, our heads pressed together.
When I look at that photo now, I wonder, “Where are those people? Where did they go?”
Two years after we moved, I started graduate school and finally made some friends, but it was hard to spend time with them. I had to lie: I shut my arm in the door. I tripped on a rug and hit my face on the table. I don’t know where that bruise came from. I think I did it in my sleep. I think I’m anemic. I just bruise so easily.
Once, Caleb said to me, “You probably wish that someone would figure out where those bruises are coming from. You probably wish someone knew, so that things could change.” He said it with such sadness.
“We remember Kurt Cobain as a multitude of men: a rock star, a heroin addict, a father, a punk hero, a spokesperson for our generation, a man who ended himself because he was not emotionally equipped for the breed of fame and attention we bestowed upon him. His death only slightly altered our perception, adding martyr to that already sizable list. He never quite receded from the spotlight, and although his musical influence is often compared to John Lennon’s, his legacy is closer to someone like Elvis’s—the legacy of someone whose death we don’t really want to acknowledge, whose impact resonates.”—The Chemistry of an Echo by Candace Opper - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
In this installment of ENDNOTE we bring you a reading list loosely curated along the lines of creativity, class, race, and visual culture. Featuring: questions of agency surrounding the political selfie, the dangers of “do what you love,” Ciara and object fetish, the racist origin of film, and at The Toast, a coffee break with every TV show’s favorite anonymous dead girl.
Writes Brager: “The specter of the unintentional object, particularly an object of action—the lens of a camera, a blurred hand in motion, the barrel of a gun—in conflict or atrocity photography carries the viewer’s gaze into the margins of the photograph and outside it. Who is acting in the margins? Whose gaze do we occupy?”
"Do what you love" has long been the motto of America’s burgeoning, plaintively long-suffering "creative class." But how responsible is this philosophy? Tokumitsu argues it does more harm than good, especially as it falls across class divides.
"Since first listening to Ciara’s “Ride,” her 2010 chart-topper about the reversal of expectation, gender trouble loosened in the declaration that her man is her Ducati, the mobilizing object parked in the garage that begs you, slick with rain, to take him for a spin, I’ve become obsessed with the Italian motorcycle company."
This essay ought to be required reading for any consumer of mass visual culture. McFadden discusses the racist origins of Kodak film and explores new ways of photographic representation with a lyrical, compassionate hand familiar with the shutter and exposure.
The eeriest thing I’ve read lately. “She peels back the plastic and gets out of the water, a little clumsy with her limbs not moving right and her blue-black blood slow shot through them. She hasn’t even opened her eyes yet, they’ve been closed that long she has to pry them with thick fingers, prop them open a while, practice her blinks.”
Have any compelling, charged, or otherwise fascinating reads? Send them to us and they might end up in ENDNOTE.
Guernica:While working in academia, what pushed you to pursue more alternative mediums as well?
Bassam Haddad:I was always struck by the disconnect between the great minds around me at the university level and what was going on within the minds of students. I felt that academics were often out of touch with the next generation. I also felt that many of the students around me, from all kinds of backgrounds, were out of touch with the world or not interested in the mechanisms and systems that have a great impact on their lives. I thought, “Academia needs framework that is not only grounded in yesterday, but in today’s world and the preferences and habits of today’s peoples.” It was important for me to produce good content, but it was also important to present it in attractive and compelling ways, especially in the United States, where comfort is the opportunity cost for many.
So I tried to follow a model that provided a balance between scholarship and other activities that sometimes have more of a direct impact on the world. Though my first scholarly book on the political economy of Syria [Business Networks-- The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience] has had considerable success, it is arguable that other forms of knowledge production that I have been involved with have had more of an impact on public discourse.
“In the beginning of our relationship, I slept in his cabin in the woods with no indoor plumbing. I had to pee, so I let myself out. The ground was snow-covered and cold and I didn’t feel like walking to the outhouse, so I went around to the side and squatted in the moonlight. The moon turned the snow into a million stars while my gentle lover slumbered in the warmth—such happiness.”—It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“We lurch after the authentic, whether dictated by white-column worshippers or BBQ alchemists or blues hagiographers or poverty tourists, and flog with equal glee outsiders who dare to intellectually or physically invade the bounds of our territory and those insiders who don’t match an idea of authenticity that amounts to little more than commoditized regionalism. And so we create a culture of negation and exclusion at our own peril, denying black voices that don’t adhere to the stifling notion of what black Southern writers should be writing about, denying expatriate and immigrant voices, and ultimately denying what the late Carlos Fuentes called the trilingual cultural exchange of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.”—Offending the Authentic by Kent Wascom - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Wednesday, early March. My twelve-year-old son has the day off from school. It’s his older brother’s birthday and I need to bake a cake. Hudson and I decide to walk to the Lookout Mountain Market to get a mix and frosting. We take Boji, our yellow lab, along.
It’s the first sunny day in a week, warm, the kind of soft-focus, liquid air that makes me feel half-time and drowsy. Blots of color in yards along Lula Lake: purple crocus, yellow forsythia, green onion grass. Hudson yanks up a cluster and chucks it across the street, then smells his fingers. Will that grass make actual onions? he asks.
We walk a block and cross from Georgia into Tennessee, alongside the rock wall with built-in mailboxes in front of each house. Past the Civil War trenches—hospital, not battle—at the four-way stop where Lula Lake road becomes Scenic Highway. We wind along past the trailhead that leads, Hudson says, “to a sick cave.” I had no idea he’d been there, though it doesn’t surprise me: mountain kids grow up roaming free, climbing boulders, swimming in creeks. We reach the small ravine across from Watauga road and cross the metal replica of the Market Street bridge—this smaller version painted black, not blue like the full-size bridge in downtown Chattanooga.
I wave to Ruth on the patio of the Café on the Corner. She’s the owner and chef, keeps my favorite Cabernet in stock for half-price wine night. I spot Gwen—the “mountain tracker” social columnist—exiting the post office. My friend Melanie speed-walks past us, waves.
Everyone we see is white. I wish I could say this grim reality is still something I notice daily, as it was when we first moved here. The shameful truth: I rarely think about it anymore. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee—there’s a reason Martin Luther King singled out our town in his famous speech.
We reach the market and I sit outside with Boji while Hudson goes in to buy the mix and frosting and a snack for himself. A woman whose name I don’t know comes out of the market—I’ve been told she’s a “socialite.” She drives a convertible. Her young son is with her. They get into the car and a country song blares. I LOVE this song! she says, and high-fives her son, who’s drinking from a juice box. They sit there and listen, together.
On the way home Hudson kicks at the spiked seed pods lining the road. Boji sniffs at ivy, lifts his leg.
There he goes, I say. Reading his pee-mails, replying.
How much is Boji worth? Hudson asks.
He’s priceless to us, I say.
I mean his actual body, Hudson says.
I tell him how much we paid, when we bought Boji from the breeder. Hudson stops walking.
You bought him?
It hadn’t occurred to me that Hudson wouldn’t know this.
We bought him from his owner, I say.
You can’t own an animal, he says. You just take care of them, in your house.
I guess you’re right, in a sense, I say.
Like, humans can’t be owned, he says, and Boji’s pretty much human.
The dog sniffs, lifts, jogs ahead.
So how much is a human body worth, Hudson says.
And we’re off again.
* * *
The next day, driving Hudson to school, we pass Howard High School, in the inner city. We’ve passed it all year, but today it’s a late start and there are students outside.
Is that a private school for black kids? Hudson asks.
Actually, it’s public, I say.
But racism is illegal, right, he says.
How do you explain to a twelve-year-old? I wish I could say, Yes, darling: racism is illegal.
Mandatory segregation is illegal, I say.
It’s the best I can do, for now.
We get on I-24 and take the Sugar’s Ribs exit at Missionary Ridge, where a herd of kudzu-eating goats grazes the hillside. Hudson’s school, private, sits at the base of the ridge, where in 1863 Arthur MacArthur—the famous General Douglas’s father—charged the hillside and took Chattanooga for the Union, General Grant watching from Orchard Knob nearby.
The sun is already high above the ridge. I say goodbye to Hudson and drive back up the mountain, the city growing hazy below. Birdsong, pillared homes, pear trees laced in white blossom—another gorgeous Southern day made, it seems, to lull us into forgetfulness.
In the absence of a subway, I have come to think of the paved, 1.7-mile roadway that loops around the edges of Audubon Park as one of the more interesting mass-transit infrastructures any American city has to offer. It’s just that the traffic is not motorized, except for the quiet hum of the occasional wheelchair. It’s by foot—or skateboard, bicycle, baby carriage, whatever. Anything but cars. They’ve been banned since 1980. The pavement’s circularity, enforced by it being the perimeter of a golf course on which mere mortals dare not tread, means that it’s a road to nowhere at all. But en route, in addition to the squabbling flocks of ducks and geese, swans and egrets, you will encounter an extraordinary variety of featherless bipeds, genus Orleaniensis.
There are the balding lawyers doing a couple of laps for their cardiologists and zoned out on whatever is coming through the plugs in their ears—Led Zepplin? The latest John Grisham thriller? The morning stock report? There are the young women of Tulane and Loyola, yacking in pairs or jogging endlessly to shed the proverbial freshman fifteen. There are the dog walkers bearing wee plastic satchels of scooped shit to the nearest trash can. Love-sick couples catch a breath of air before repairing again to the bower. There are the scrawny skateboard dudes with more tattoos than they have years of school. Young parents push baby carriages, sometimes at a trot. Or nannies, up from the islands, do it for them. Grannies hobble along. Dangerous hombres plot trouble and slip into the underbrush at the sight of a cop.
“A few historians have mentioned the incident, but like many Southern stories, this tale is best told at dinner after trickling through generations of hyperbolic—and often alcoholic—relatives until fact and fiction have been distilled down beyond separation. The version recounted at my family’s table claims that during a heated debate over the Compromise of 1850, Henry Foote directed a tirade of personal insults at Missouri Senator Thomas Benton until Benton physically charged him, and Foote drew his pistol and aimed. Before he could squeeze a round off, fellow senators wrestled him to the floor, disarmed him, and locked away the gun in the vice president’s drawer. Dusting themselves off, the two senators from Missouri and Mississippi carried on the debate as before.”—The Story of Senator Henry S. Foote by David Foote - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“Some nights / when he held her he held everything. Some nights the windows
seemed so far away. Some nights like Jacob he wrestled with God—
I could murder a man, he thought some nights, but he could never make out
that man’s face. He was not blessed. He was not broken, either.”—Act Two by Clay Matthews - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“Black people in this country are told all the time, from all aspects, that they’re nothing, that they’re less than. And of course that bears fruit, but no one wants to shoulder part of the blame. A lot of people here can’t see around their own family’s history. They don’t want to see that where they come from and the people they surround themselves with might have played a role in all this. This is all part of our national myth about the individual. We think that a lack of success comes from the individual not working hard enough. A lot of people in this country really believe that. Hopefully, if we keep trying to have these really tortured conversations, it might make a difference some years in the future, but right now I don’t think we can speak about that part of our past honestly.”—Beating the Drum, Dwyer Murphy interviews Jesmyn Ward - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Excerpt: On a Strange Roof, Thinking of Home, by Ed Winstead
“Southern,” as a descriptor of literature, is immediately familiar, possessed of a thrilling, evocative, almost ontological power. It is a primary descriptor, and alone among American literary geographies in that respect. Faulkner’s work is essentially “Southern” in the same way that Thomas Pynchon’s is essentially “postmodern,” but not, you’ll note, “Northeastern.” To displace Faulkner from his South would be to remove an essential quality; he would functionally cease to exist in a recognizable way.
It applies to the rest of the list, too (with O’Connor the possible exception, being inoculated somewhat by her Catholicism). It is impossible to imagine these writers divorced from the South. This is unusual, and a product of the unusual circumstances that gave rise to them. Faulkner, Lee, Percy, and Welty were no more Southern than Edgar Allen Poe or Sidney Lanier or Kate Chopin, and yet their writing, in the context of the South at that time, definitively was. There’s a universal appeal to their work, to be certain, but it’s also very much a regional literature, one grappling with a very specific set of circumstances in a fixed time, and correspondingly, one with very specific interests: the wearing away of the old Southern social structures, the economic uncertainty inherent in family farming, and overt, systematized racism (which, while undoubtedly still present in the South today, is very much changed from what it was).
Note the absence from the list of a great essayist, or a philosopher-writer in the vein of Emerson or Baldwin or even Orwell. The tepid institution of Lost Cause fiction that had preceded the Southern Renaissance, and the general absence of introspection in white Southern intellectual circles prior to the defensive upheaval that Mencken set off in the ’20s, left a vacuum that the new generation of writers were drawn inexorably toward—the need to explain the place, both to its detractors elsewhere and to themselves. Hence Faulkner’s popularity with Central and South American writers (Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Louis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez, among others), who loved not only the rigmarole of his formal constructions, but the broader social similarities between Faulkner’s world and their own—the inseparability of history from myth, of past from present, of tragedy from any of it.
“Under the porch / the black ants carried the scraps away. They were leaving—everything
was leaving. The hawk on the highway who had sat on that powerline
for years, the neighbors in their old sedan, the news crew who had asked him
What are you most afraid of losing? and Tell us about floods and Have you ever
stood on a hilltop and seen the world end? He cleaned the charcoal off his hands,
the motor oil, the grease, he cleaned the chicken shit and the mud,
the fish scales and the blood, everything water, everything rinsed, everything
in a half of a house that leant to the sun in the west, everything
in a rusted bicycle and his old truck on blocks, everything in the coop
and the crutches laid against the wall of the shed.”—Act Two, by Clay Matthews - Guernica / A Magazine of Art and Politics
Guernica:Now that you’ve got the National Book Award, do you worry that you’ll be held up as an exception, as though the coverage of your work proves that the bias against women or Southern or black writers isn’t as bad as it seems?
Jesmyn Ward:You know, I’ve heard black writers talking about this—it seems like there can only be one person let through the gates, one person who then has to represent all writing by people of color. So, yes, I worry, because I see so many talented writers of color struggling to get their work out to an audience. I know that’s the case for all writers—everyone’s struggling for attention—but I do think that for writers of color it’s harder, and for women it’s harder, and for regional writers it’s harder, too. But there are things that can help, like the VIDA study. If we just keep beating that drum, things may begin to change.
“In 2009 The Oxford American polled 134 Southern writers and academics and put together a list of the greatest Southern novels of all time based on their responses. All save one, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, were published between 1929 and 1960. What we think of when we think of “Southern fiction” exists now almost entirely within the boundaries of the two generations of writers that occupied that space. Asked to name great American authors, we’ll give answers that span time from Hawthorne and Melville to Whitman to DeLillo. Ask for great Southern ones and you’ll more than likely get a name from the Southern Renaissance: William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe—all of them sandwiched into the same couple of post-Agrarian decades.”—On a Strange Roof, Thinking of Home by Ed Winstead - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Guernica:While we’re talking about DeLisle, Mississippi, can you tell me about the decision to stay in your hometown?
Jesmyn Ward:First, both sides of my family are here, and it’s a huge family. Just counting the side of my mother’s mother, there are more than two hundred of us. Having a family that big in a place like this, there’s a pretty special sense of community and closeness. Second, I love the South—the landscape and the beauty—it feels like a part of me. I know that sounds hokey, but that’s how it feels. And there are things about the South—the politics, the classism, the racism—that I hate, and I want to be here to fight those things. I don’t want to be in California or Michigan just complaining about them. I’m here trying to make a difference in the way I can, writing about it. And I want younger people, especially kids from my community, to see that being successful doesn’t have to mean leaving a place like this. You don’t have to trade in your family or your sense of belonging for that.
“In Southern Gothic, the most important concept is the grotesque. With the grotesque, reality is distorted into ugly and absurd shapes. “I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear,” Flannery O’Connor once said. By exaggerating reality, we are able to actually see it. The grotesque is a balance of contradictions. It creeps and crawls between repulsion and attraction, the real and the unreal, and humor and horror. The sublime floats in the mind, but the grotesque is experienced in the body—in turning stomachs, goose bumps, and sweat.”—Lincoln Michel: Lush Rot - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
I don’t know how to put this. Here, there’s no comparing. There’s knowledge, and there’s dirt. They’re the same thing, also entirely different. My mother has a night-blooming cereus that was her mother’s and her mother’s. This is exactly like Kew Gardens, where there is a house plant two hundred and fifty years old. Same thing. Except my grandmother has died, which is what happens here.
I spotted a cemetery on the way to work the other day. Not the one by the little church with the “We Trust in Christ” sign, not that one, but another one, with a spindly obelisk and two cracked stones and one whole stone thin as a layer of cake and canted back, and a few foot-markers and infant pillows and what-all can you see navigating the corner by the mobile home park at fifty miles an hour. So there you go. So there it is. That’s how it is. Except that it’s different, because that’s how we are, we like to make distinctions even when there aren’t any, for the fun of it and to make sure strangers never get it right. (They try, though, bless their hearts.)
You see, here is a narrative nearness that approximates the closing in of landscape by hills and trees, and the closing in of space and night-sky and finality by the presence of ghost ancestors who perhaps are also trapped by the land, which is beautiful, unutterably beautiful, so it’s no wonder the dead aren’t leaving to go into that goddamned light. Here is a blur that talks to you, makes love to you, leaves you flat. Here you’re related to everyone, but they’re still waiting to see how you turn out.
Are we stagey? Are we absent? Henry Adams said we have no mind, just temperament. That’s probably what this is, this state of absolute certainty about the details of the storm we forgot to come in from—the moment the pine cracked in half, the green and sap-drenched air after.
For me, being a Southern writer means my parents now live in my grandparents’ house where my mother tends her mother’s native azaleas, which tower a glowing pale peach well above our heads. It also means I often leave that family home and head for another family home on the far side of town. This small brick house at the end of a short street, deep in what is now a rough neighborhood, was once owned by a woman who came to work for my parents when I was seven years old. Mrs. Ida Mae Washington drove a huge lemon-yellow car, smoked unfiltered Pall Malls, and taught me how to be real within a world that emphasized facade.
Her daughter lives in her mother’s house now too, and it’s still tumbling full of family, children, grandchildren, cousins, neighbors, and even a great-niece. After twenty years of crisscrossing back and forth across town, weaving my own net, those living in this house welcome me. They tell me their stories, especially the one their great Aunt Sook told them about climbing onto the auction block as a teenager, picking out a white man who seemed reasonable, and flirting with him to get him to buy her, as a way to stay safe. Even now, she watches over her family just as my grandfather’s grandfather watches over us.
Every February, without fail, I find myself driving a snow-lined Vermont road, my cold hands gripping the steering wheel, and lo and behold the familiar, plaintive strains of “Freebird” pour from the radio and stir my soul in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with. Those first bars, when the guitar is full of longing and wistfulness, so am I.
But in the back of my mind, I wonder what music I should allow myself to take pleasure in, if I should question what melody cues my homesickness, transports my imagination. Nostalgia is a spontaneous, intoxicating response for me, and the only way out is to turn the station. It’s in a writer’s nature to plumb discomfort and memory, and so I do.
Here are problematic things I once found beautiful: Abandoned plantation homes. The artfully landscaped, terraced graveyard in downtown Raleigh where Jesse Helms is buried and one frequently stumbles upon heartfelt Confederate re-enactments. A Nash County tobacco barn. A solemn hymn in a Baptist church. The dimly-lit ballroom of a country club with its buffet table of steaming omelets and Baked Alaska.
You don’t control the stimuli in your life as a child, and while I tried as a teenager, I know I did so with less worldliness and concern than I might have. So when I hear “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” I ache a little for the hot summer nights in a South Carolina hayfield, where I sat on the hood of my boyfriend’s SUV, drinking beer, listening to this album when I was young, pretty, and occasionally stupid. And as the song reaches its frenzy—“Lord, I can’t change”—we are driving home with the windows down, pummelling the dashboard like a drum. My hair is flying across my face, and I can smell his cologne. His headlights land on the tawny body of a deer sprinting across the road. Everything inside me is wild, beautiful, beer-drenched.
Confession: When I get to this part in “Freebird” as an adult, sometimes I cry. What is it that moves me? The music itself, the frenzy, or memories of the out-of-reach girl it calls to?
A few years ago I went to a Budweiser-sponsored Skynyrd concert, a free one a few blocks away from my old house in downtown Raleigh, where I witnessed two women with strollers slap each other with half-hearted viciousness, one keeping a cigarette in her mouth, the other dropping her beer can with panache. The concert took place in Moore Square, where I imagine organizers had to coax out the homeless population that gathers there, as it’s near the shelter and bus station. I walked to the concert with both a faint interest in the music and anthropological intrigue about the people it gathered. I believe some part of me has always felt like I am not those people.
But of course I am those people. And so when nostalgia strikes, I feel as though an imaginary hand is reaching into the potting soil of my imagination, sifting and sifting until it rises, cupping something I’m made of, built from, fed on. Something that might not pass more enlightened scrutiny.
I recently watched a Lynyrd Skynyrd video online. It shows a field teeming with skinny white people in 1977, women in tank tops hoisted on shoulders, cheering on the original band performing in front of one of the largest Confederate flags I’ve ever seen, and ever since I’ve felt guilty about the way the music makes me feel, which is somewhere at the intersection of innocent and irresponsible. The song unlocks something in me.
But in the dead of winter, “Freebird” on, I deeply miss my neighborhood in Raleigh, the stained glass in my hallway, the sunny yellow of the forsythia that grew in my grandmother’s yard. I miss watching the big storms roll in at the beach, walking down the splintered pier over the churning Atlantic, peering at freshly-caught fish in gallon buckets. I want the leather of my driver’s seat to get so hot it burns my legs. I want to drink wine with my sister on her back porch, watch birds with my mother, talk with my father as he practices his golf swing in the driveway. I miss the swampy fecundity of the forests, creeks teeming with copperheads. I miss the people who “hug your neck,” and bring you casseroles and tell animated dinner table stories about drunk uncles on tricycles. I miss the effusive warmth of air and people, the mystery-laden nooks in old homes, the passion for good basketball. I could be happy there.
Everyone has a different South. I have many. But Southern nostalgia is like walking barefoot in the tea-colored creek I grew up near; you have to watch where you step. You have to think hard about what in your past is safe to love. Sometimes you have to find another station, another way in.
“Music offers just another reflection of the cultural hybridity of the South’s multiracial population. From the moment Europeans mixed with Native Americans at Jamestown, then brought Africans into Virginia and Carolina, the distinctive South emerged with its Creole culture, never to disappear despite the atrocities of slavery and segregation. The persistence of the plantation with its coerced labor force and cash-crop economy created a sense of place shared by white and black, who joined the Native Americans in a love of the land. That earth produced the region’s famous cuisine that John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance documents, its whole a subtle mix of its global parts as in a gumbo with its varying ingredients of African okra, American file, and European roux. For centuries such multicultural expressions remained accessible only in the South but by the time Alabamian Hank Williams, Jr., started singing about “Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo,” the region had reintegrated into the nation thanks to the collapse of the plantation system with the Great Depression and the economic incentives of World War II.”—Wherever the Four Winds Blow by Glenn T. Eskew - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
In concert with our upcoming themed issue The American South, this week’s ENDNOTE features some of our favorite writing— new and old— from and about Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and from Guernica contributor Jesmyn Ward, a long drive hauling cattle…
I just got back from New Orleans— it’s why there was no ENDNOTE last week. Donegan’s thoughtful writing on the city, as both in- and outsider, white gentrifier and Americorps volunteer, was the perfect counterpoint to my experience as couchsurfer-cum-hipster-tourist. Writes Donegan: “This kind of thing isn’t easy to explain, but New Orleans is suffused with a seductive nostalgia that is surprisingly difficult to resist; it tricks you into participating in its own mythology in ways that you don’t expect it to.”
Ward’s short story chronicling a young truck driver’s haul of cattle from Louisiana to Texas is a beautiful, brutal piece of prose. “Before my mama died, my daddy took me fishing. I didn’t catch nothing, but he caught a small redfish and let me hold it in my hands. It twisted and shook, turning its head like it was trying tell us no: it didn’t want to die, didn’t want to be up out of the water, didn’t want to go back in the bucket. My stomach feel like it got twenty fish in it now. My hands hard on the steering wheel. My eyes hurt like my brain want to close them but the drug won’t let them.”
Martinez writes of barbacoa, barbecued calf’s head cooked in earth pits, and the family ritual and memory surrounding something as simple as a lengua taco. “Perhaps it was the simplicity of the service—the baked, greasy meat wrapped in tinfoil and ferried home in a large cardboard boat, then presented on the kitchen table with two dozen freshly made corn tortillas and that salsa—but for a moment, my loose definition of a family would come together as we launched into the shared meal.”
Come meet the Dominican Sisters of Houston, an active convent of nuns that serve the community through teaching and volunteering. Mar, in joining them briefly, learns their daily habits, but also contemplates the difference between fear and loneliness and the space between conviction and faith.
Hasn’t everyone wanted to be a mermaid, at least for a little while? Sole-Smith’s visit to Weeki Wachee is full of great details, like the following: “I sat down next to Crystal Videgar on a bench in front of a mirror that ran along one wall. She wore a black fishnet stocking pulled down over her face, which she used to create a scale pattern as she dabbed metallic green and purple eye shadow around her temples. The conversation had turned to whether everyone should meet up at Hooters or Applebee’s after work, but Videgar worked on her makeup with quiet focus. When she pulled off the stocking, I could see in between the fish scales that her skin was lightly freckled from life in the Florida sun. “We love that we get to dress up all day long,” she said. “It’s like reliving your childhood.””
Have any compelling, charged, or otherwise fascinating reads? Send them to us and they might end up in ENDNOTE. And expect part II of American south reads next week!