Shelby Stephenson




 

PAUL'S HILL: ONCE PART OF A PLANTATION



Another thing about the tenants on Paul’s Hill,

When I was growing up in the 1950’s,

Surrounded by graveyards and tales which fueled

My quest to understand the past, the mysteries

Of bondage, together with a richness of burdens

Slave-holding families bear for southerners

Who keep telling the same stories over and over,

My father, especially, varying them ever

I believe, to show the force the imagination

Plays toward survival on a small farm which discovers

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.



We did have tenants, black and white, and what thrill

I remember was not the few times we went to big cities

To see the bright lights, displays, and a sky filled

With buildings a thousand times higher than our hen-house for biddies

That fluffed a show for us while their mothers

Laid eggs in baskets nailed on corn-crib walls for Mama Maytle,

Who cooked for me mornings a “round-wheel” egg as bold

As the sun’s constant hubbing to set, if truth be told,

To bubble that just about all our tenants loved libation,

And they would party like hell weekends while farming went on hold –

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.



One Monday morning Fonzo came to the door with a doctor’s bill.

He got in a fight over the weekend and someone had slit his

Face and neck; bandaged up like that did steal

What semblance of a man he’d strut to mention

While pulling fodder or corn or hoeing cockleburs

Out of the cotton: I mean he was edgy in a real forward

Way; still he didn’t mind knives and jousts, unless he was sober,

Which was seldom: drinking seemed to be his main lover,

The devil-woman, sweet mate, surrogate

For his plight of being in a class of laborers lower,

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.



And Roof Allen castrated our goat that was set to kill

William Evan Parrish one morning at daybreak, Old Bill

Butting the Parrish boy off the high-planked porch to chill

My father’s claims that Billy would not dish him

Into the jimson-weeds growing in the water-furrow

To keep our shanty from being flooded

And washed away into Cow Mire never

To be lived in again by any descendant of Pap George.

Well, I loved Roof’s wife, Thelma: she’d plan occasions

When she could talk and I would listen to her tell a story,

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.



Roof killed himself: I don’t know why: the will

Gets all gnarled up in times when medicine,

Especially, is just not a consideration until

It is too late to help someone whose finances

Simply don’t exist – whose only thought is to work on

Into the coming night and to be ready to go every morning,

When feeling well is just out of reach from rolls in clover

Roof Allen might have dreamed of, as if a favor

Life imposed on him caught persuasion

Wrong and he ended up, stealing away from Paul’s Hill, to meet his Savior,

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.



You farmer, lover, landlord, tenant, rover,

In your wishes some greeting mark please quiver

And make the mental arrow complete with commiseration

For poor people, particularly, those who always work for The Other,

The essence of what it once was like to be part of a plantation.




Copyright © 2013 Shelby Stephenson

 
Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge.