Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Elegy for Earl

A poem I wrote a very long time ago about an elderly African-American man who lived (and died) in Council when I was growing up...

An Elegy for Earl

You lived a long life.

Not necessarily full or content--

born in a broken-down shanty.

You saw your father toil

in the pine forest “dippin’ gum”,

and when a child

you went to work beside him.

Your coal black face

was worn with creases

from fretting about your next meal.

Your hands,

with their swollen, arthritic joints,

were like the bent, gnarled branches

of an ancient tree

long past its prime

that keeps living

because it has no other choice.

The humid summer

found you laboring

as intolerable heat

seemed to almost smother you

and you struggled

for each asthmatic breath you drew.

In Fall,

you gathered turpentine cups

and saw early morning frost

sparkle on gallberry leaves,

christened by the dawning sunlight.

Winter brought cold sharp winds

that tore at your leathery skin

like stinging nettles

and made you shiver

in your scanty clothing:

a light woolen coat

with moth-eaten holes,

shoes without any toes.

At night you pulled a tattered blanket

close under your chin,

only to have your feet freeze

as icy gusts came whistling through

the paper-filled cracks in the walls.

And Spring, benevolent Spring,

brought showers,

watered your meager garden

and gave you the gift of fruits

from the woodlands:

wild plums, blackberries, and mayhaw,

occasionally a chance

to catch a few fish.

All welcome changes

from your lunch time ritual

of sardines and soda crackers.

Fridays you collected your paltry pay

and took it to the company store

to barter for a few groceries

that never seem to last through the week.

The little children

would stand outside and wait

for they knew

you were good for a nickel or two.

They flocked round you,

their pink outstretched palms

like hungry mouths of young mockingbirds,

all begging for a crumb.

You kept back enough money

to buy some ‘shine,

a necessary evil

to make the long nights dreamless

and the end of each day

something to look forward to.

You never knew the luxuries

that most of us took for granted.

Oh yes, you did have

one electric light bulb

suspended from the ceiling,

casting a distorted glare

that mocked your meager existence.

But, oh, to have had running water,

would have surely been heaven.

You lived a long life

and then one day you died,

your heart bursting

like an overripe melon

out in the sun too long.

It left you slumped on the dirt path

that led to your meager home,

to be found there by some child,

coming to beg for a nickel.

Rose S. Williams-1976
Earl died on the pathway that lead to his home, just as I described ,when I was about 17 or 18, and it affected me greatly. This poem is the result. Unfortunately, the old shanty was torn down many years ago, so I'm using a photo of another shanty in Council for this poem.

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