One place understood helps us understand all places better.

Eudora Welty


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Southern Smile

The writer Flannery O’Connor once remarked: “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

Grotesque is defined as comically or repulsively ugly. The South (the American South) is mostly comically grotesque until it isn't, then it is repulsively grotesque. But there is a reason for this, the South was cut from its cultural moorings some one hundred fifty years ago. Yes, the Civil War. Maybe laid to rest by most in the country, the war is still breathing (now on life-support perhaps) in the South.

But then it must be remembered that the South is the only region in the United States that has been defeated in battle (I ignore the history of Native Americans for the moment). This left a scar, by turns comical and repulsive, that underpins the true South (not the South of transplants). The true South is haunted by ghosts, not of the ether but of the mind. The true Southerner will never forget though he may not know what or why he won't forget. He'll raise the Battle Flag without a thought and then get incensed if someone points out the connotation of what he has done. A symbol of defiance is his attitude, he believes if you refuse to recognize defeat then defeat is well, defeated. You can see it in Southern eyes and especially Southern smiles.

The following is a poem I wrote a long time ago in a land that barely exists now but will always haunt. Note that this is not a ghost story but a dream sequence.

Chair, the room with
white walls
Come… sit down to fry.

My body balloons with
a fever
Mother somewhere, cries…

My man sits down to break-
sits down to food-feast.

My body longs a drink to health
longs a sad, sweet sleep.

Rest easy my man I drift
All hail your toast and jam,

I taste your last bit of Oran-juice
Such soft shoulders in my hands.

A flip of wrists; neck-twist,
feel sadness,
a Southern lady screams in pain.

I’m drawn away to face the
looks like a sky-rain.

All is lost my body tossed
on a cool linen sheet,
Must have been a dream my friend
One dreamed quick before I sweet-sleeped.

“It was in all the papers,”
  said the man,
“So fine a Southern belle,
  the same morning he was
  fried, God rest him –“
  -- he smiled --
“God rest him in hell.”