Rebecca Black

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).