As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night
– Walt Whitman
I. 2009 Meridian, Mississippi
Through milk and blue glass unpolished brilliance,
I watched my grandmother’s daughters carry
the body that no longer knew its limbs,
watched them then uncover paper secrets.
II. 1939 Pachuta, Mississippi
A girl working among the timber beasts
selected, lifted, measured longleaf pine,
learned to recognize wood’s defects—discard
the boxed heart, burls, honeycomb, wane or want.
At thirteen, my grandmother lied three years
beyond her womb-leaving day—age sixteen
read the work document—plagiarized pomp,
the circumstance forced by family need.
III. 1947 Okinawa, Japan
Late November harvesting, sweetness peak,
the laborers strapped the sugarcane stalks
to their backs, behind them laid the rotten:
the shoot borer, red rot, and yellow leaf.
Older, and with her own labor, she watched
them carry, as she prepared for a son
who outlived her first marriage by sixteen
years, watched them rucking, heavy with sugar.
IV. 1956 Meridian, Mississippi
Branching tertiary from her taproot,
how easily she conceived an error.
She named her Priscilla and packed the truth
like a bare-root in sawdust and shavings.
Scarlet A-insignia held chest-close,
another marriage was born premature;
wrapped tightly in yellow chenille, silent
it grew—buried rhizome, visible leaves.
V. 1964 Pachuta, Mississippi
At Aunt Leila’s viewing, she examined
portrait albums, began to doubt her blood’s
inheritance that years ago forced fraud
upon her, obsessed over Leila’s ring—
Oh, how well the art deco heirloom fits,
old memories refined in platinum.
The crypt then sealed: haunting solitary
skid road of the bleeding throat’s lumberyard.
VI. 2009 Richmond, Virginia
My mother’s mother bends from beyond night
to reclaim what daughters have found, the birth
certificates’ signed falsehoods; death wake, her
body lies in wanting, wordless labor.
Jessica Conley earned her BA and MA from Virginia Commonwealth University and has returned to VCU for her MFA in Creative Writing. Her poem ‘Brinegar Family’ can be found in The Gordian Review’s most recent publication. She currently teaches Literature at The Steward School and lives in Richmond, Virginia.