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Southern Sisters

Here is a poem I want to pass by everyone. It amounts to my first large conception. Actually, it is my second but the first larger project, written in 1974, I stupidly threw out decades ago. It was first conceived in 1976. First draft made in 1980. Last writing was in 1986 I think. I've honestly never known if it works. But back in '80 I made a small book out of it, not even a chapbook, barely a broadsheet. It actually sold a few copies in the town where I lived then. Can someone please tell me if it is worth keeping.


           Southern Sisters
    Slow moves, slow dances,
    winter cut nights, summer chances.
    Southern sun, southern daughters,
    Gulf stream currents, forgotten waters.
    Is there anyone left to say today
    they know these sisters,
    these Southern Sisters?
    Any men of might, women in flight,
    knowing now where they hide?
    But they have left their homes,
    (marsh, city, and rider)
    and they've taken to load an exile's road.
    They've cleanly gone for good,
    (long nights, longer days)
    and they've left us turning, standing still.
    Maybe they left us slowly,
    (long trains, dry faces)
    while carrying on their backs
    old pearls and broken pacts.
    Maybe they left us shaken,
    (too much, too fast, too hard)
    like work house children they
    walked past the door.

    But I have seen these ladies,
    these close light Pleiades.
    And they've stretched themselves
    inside overhang trees,
    they've sometimes shaken themselves
    between the leaf cover.
    They've even unbuttoned their names,
    their hiding day faces,
    and they've peeled away
    at sun blanched days
    of long running neglect.
    Here is how they've shown themselves.
    River's daughter, river's edge
    standing in the water and the wind
    close to where a pelican's carcass lay.
    Maggots and flies tugged on its hide
    while a near-by Timucuan girl
    washed the road dust from her
    brown and heavy hips.
    A butterfly girl was with me that day,
    and she must have seen her too.
    While not far from here Bulow's sugarmill
    stands behind a scrub oak screen,
    still-standing in the salt marsh stretch.
    And in bark dark waters
    below shields of light,
    a river's daughter can run to night.

    Mountain's hold, mountain's ridge
    coming between sky and earth,
    she stands between dream and day.
    On her back abandoned orchards go wild,
    on her back farm walls have crumbled,
    the telling signs of labors lost to life.
    And if you lean against her flesh in the night
    you lean against the planet's pulse
    where you can watch and see
    and you can taste and touch
    the shimmering hillsides
    behind the rise in her shoulders.
    The sky is always closer here,
    the girdle of highways broken open.

    Piedmont's plateau, earth tied daughter,
    she who has never known
    the high smelling gifts,
    who never cared for midnight scents.
    She preferred sun
    shared days and early labors.
    In the fields and on the roads,
    or in the forests and coming home,
    she has mostly stayed an honest bride.
    And tobacco warehouses
    were so sweet and full in the fall,
    while in winter there was
    Carolina's laughter.
    Spring and summer coming in,
    they looked as if they would always
    be coming again.

    Crescent city, delta town,
    still the daughter so darkly giving,
    the daughter you never do find asleep.
    Out of habit, out of necessary heart,
    out of love, out of moon breed,
    she can bend in the dawn's light
    on quivering knees,
    or just smile inside garden enclosure.
    Swamp bones and the ground swell,
    in the floods the snakes swim in,
    while the waters will rise
    and a city can sink inside
    Creole burial mounds.
    Funny how the river basin days
    can warm the blood there,
    melt harsh words on the tongue there.

    Ocean's sister, ocean's shore
    where sea winds blow until the cloak is open,
    just as when fathering ships were met,
    when mothering colonies got set.
    And they all came in from the sea,
    they all came out of
    the triangular sea.
    And a Nor'easter will still take hold
    with long skinny fingers,
    while salt cakes keep in crystal
    on the scrub oaks, the piers' posts,
    on sand sewn sea oats.
    And she somehow keeps the tidewaters
    still so safe inside
    like so many morning glories, so many
    pearl pale sanctuaries.

    Narrowing roads, languishing ladies
    when old Dixie Highway started nowhere one day
    like a chopped up and wiggling worm.
    In softly shouldered nights of sweet singing,
    or following swamp lights behind deadly dawns,
    they always tempted us forward.
    And they've even taken up again
    with sons and weed-wandering brothers
    who had left to go looking for causes.
    And they've mingled yes again with them
    floating on low moss sashes,
    between the highland hammocks,
    making their meetings inside
    thatches of live oak leaf.
    They are the roadway women
    loving wild eyed boys and
    new moon lovers.


    But there is always more to a place
    than the glancing light on its face,
    the shapely swing of its lay,
    or the rich loam strength of its belly.
    There is then the make-believe it creates.
    Like clay red smiles and snow quiet dreams,
    or mountain man music, savannah low blues,
    and the moss heavy breathing, the scrub oak shade,
    or the delta dreams fed on red river veins.
    And there are even other faces behind
    a face place's make-believe.
    There are the real time settings
    of loves found and lost again,
    or of when leaving winter when looking for spring
    hoping that a warm water sun
    will warm the butterfly in your hand,
    will warm her Southern heart again.
    Only to find the wormy doubts crawling through her
    in the ruins of Windsor Plantation, and
    on a bluff above the Mississippi.
    Or maybe it's the night in Mobile Bay
    when she shows how she can stay to play
    saying, "it really doesn't matter."
    And how can it not matter, remembering
    that first green-gold season
    when uncovering things
    no two lovers ever found before?
    Such as the bottom of the feeling trench
    where new love goes dark in the well,
    with love's child a woven conception.
    Then the picture she posts years later
    showing how she's silver winged again,
    or the loveliest luna moth at the party.
    And so the inside scene clearly measured
    when certain you never made her that
    cool, or that bright, and that easy.

    Winding rivers, reaching ridge,
    day length ladies, evening's bridge.
    Fair haired sisters, dark skinned daughters,
    slow light faces, spring fed.
Jul/5/2009, 9:11 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
dmanister Profile
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Re: Southern Sisters

Dear Tere,

Some stunning passages and risky repetitions in this (triadic use of "warm" for one).

Stereotypes that you would not I think write now ("mountain man" -- a generic type for example) should be developed as particular persons or left out.

Love the Gary Snyderesque takes on nature, and I can almost stand the macho posture in this one; it communicates a touch of humility in the face of nature's greater force.

As in the other new poem you've posted, the long daunting column of grey could be made more inviting by any number of means.


Jul/26/2009, 8:38 am Link to this post Send Email to dmanister   Send PM to dmanister
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Re: Southern Sisters

Thanks for commenting, Diana. I appreciate the time taken. It is good to get a new take on a very old trick. And I wish I could identify what comes across as so macho in tone. I must not know myself well enough.

Jul/26/2009, 1:47 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson

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