"Portrait: Arley, Alabama 1930s" | Poetry Contest | Indy Week
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"Portrait: Arley, Alabama 1930s" 

First place

Final Judge's intro
Portrait: Arley, Alabama, 1930s

Richly textured in an abbreviated epistle format, "Portrait: Arley, Alabama, 1930s" offers readers three intimate snapshots of one woman's rural lifestyle in Depression era Alabama. Delivered through the confident, matter-of-fact narration of a female protagonist, the sheer beauty of this piece is its efficient use of locally specific language to craft solid tactile imagery. Like any portrait, the absences rendered bare in these sketches are as prominent as any presence. In the first vignette, "For Jim (Marriage)," the work and sacrifice of the protagonist and her father are at the vanguard, while the husband's labor cannot be traced, even in the margins. "My daddy built these frames/ . . . I pick the seeds out of the cotton/ . . . My daddy bought the wash-pot/ . . . I slice the hog's neck," but where are the products of Jim's labor? The struggle and submission have been "for" Jim, "I laid down my pen and picked up a needle/ . . . and picked up a knife/ for you," but does not include him.

"Premonition," which begins with the warning, "Your mama told me there are haints in these hollers" further highlights both the absent husband and the poet's wonderful use of colloquial speech. In this section especially, the poet lays out word-pictures like quilt patches sewn together in circular, full strokes by her variant repetitions of "I'll never get used to this dark,/the thick wet silence down in these bottoms."

As the tone in each section becomes increasingly rounder, "Premonition Fulfilled" is the most prosaic of the three and illustrates the speaker's resolve to remain unmoved even as the events of her life and her environment appear to be going off-kilter: "I will brew one more cup of sassafras tea/ So this ice-cold wind won't blow me away/ . . . And the moon won't hang just right anymore." In offering readers a slice of life in 1930s Arley, Alabama, the poet demonstrates the strength and quiet determination of one woman through everyday acts of resistance and survival. EndBlock

Portrait:
Arley, Alabama 1930s

By Jessica N. Sampley

I. For Jim (Marriage)
1934

My daddy built these frames
that hang from our ceiling,
fabric hooked around the wood.
I pick the seeds out of the cotton
for the quilt I'm making,
my fingers stay swollen, hard with blood.

But I won't stop.
I laid down my pen
and picked up a needle
for you.

My daddy bought the wash-pot
that sits on our back porch,
full of lard and grease.
I slice the hog's neck
for the chittlins and fat-back,
my ears stay full of screams.

But I won't stop.
I laid down my pen
and picked up a knife
for you.

II. Premonition
November 19, 1935

Your mama told me there are haints in these hollers.
I'll never get used to this dark,
the thick wet silence down in these bottoms.

I never believed her, until last night.

With the last child off to bed, I went down
I'm not used to this dark,
the thick wet silence down in these bottoms.

to the edge of the yard, gathered my skirts,

then glanced at the sky, the full moon,
Even in the moonlight, it's still dark,
and the silence is thick in these bottoms.

the tallest pine, the hogs' pen, and standing there

was Cousin Mel with a hole in the side of his head.
For just a second it wasn't as dark
but the silence was thick in these bottoms.

I blinked and he was gone.

It wasn't Mel's ghost because he was still asleep
on the kitchen floor. I don't know what it was--
maybe I'll ask your mama.
But I'll never get used to this dark,
the thick wet silence down in these bottoms.

III.Premonition Fulfilled
Mel Chambliss (b 1918) died on November 20, 1935. He was shot in the head in a hunting accident.

The moon doesn't hang just right anymore,
Because sorrow has filled these hollers again.
This ice-cold wind fights to blow me away,
But I will stay here with him until morning.

Because sorrow has filled these hollers again,
I will brew one more cup of sassafras tea.
And I will stay here with him until morning,
When we'll bury him next to his father.

I will brew one more cup of sassafras tea
So this ice-cold wind won't blow me away.
Then we'll bury him next to his father,
And the moon won't hang just right anymore.

  • First place

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Memories are made if this. Bless you

by Matu Feliciano on Blood-Red Moon (Poetry Contest)

Hello,

I was wondering do you have Host for this event? If not I would like to be involved …

by Church Da'Poet on 2012 Poetry Issue (Poetry Contest)

That's my man!

by Emily Cooper on 2011 Poetry Issue (Poetry Contest)

thanks for the heads up, dman. it should be fixed now.

by Denise Prickett on 2009 Poetry Issue (Poetry Contest)

Webpage needs attention. Some photos overlap poems.

by dman on 2009 Poetry Issue (Poetry Contest)

Comments

Memories are made if this. Bless you

by Matu Feliciano on Blood-Red Moon (Poetry Contest)

Hello,

I was wondering do you have Host for this event? If not I would like to be involved …

by Church Da'Poet on 2012 Poetry Issue (Poetry Contest)

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