Tolberton County, 1923
Small god of histories, make yourself known.
Clay-eater, smith and jester, bend the dogwood
down. Tell me who cheated who at cards,
who placed spade next to heart before that ghost,
my great-great uncle, slashed a man’s throat
with his penknife? And walked himself weeping
to the county jail. His nephew sent later
with a flour-sack of cash to bribe the governor
of Sugar Creek. Child of child of pocketknife
and cannon fodder, motoring past sand dunes
far below sea level, I won’t report my crimes.
I do shadow-time, imagining the boy sent
with the bribe made to wait all day on the capitol
steps, face burning from sun and shame.
The murderer my great-great uncle escaped the gallows,
married a poor woman who kept him sane.
The boy ran a cotton mill for fifty years.
As he died he told us his secret story—
saying sure you can purchase mercy sure
you can. But everything you gotta buy costs high.
“Talbotton County, 1923” first appeared in Cottonlandia (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005).