One of the great things about attending local poetry readings and open mics is meeting other poets. I met Nancy when I read at Poetry Hickory at Taste Full Beans, hosted by Scott Owens. Nancy was a regular reader there, but has since moved to Tennessee. When Nancy smiles her eyes sparkle, and she immediately made me feel right at home in her poetry backyard.
In her book, Let the Lady Speak, Nancy channels the famous – like Zelda and Penelope – and the familial like her Grandma Sally Rose. Each lady speaks a truth, sometimes an uncomfortable one, and Nancy gives them a strong voice to speak it. There is joy and sorrow in Built by Hand; matter-of-fact acknowledgement coupled with curiosity in Breast Milk and Frozen Okra. The women come alive under Nancy’s care. They become women we care about, and want to sit and listen to as they tell their stories.
From Let the Lady Speak, published by Highland Creek Books, posted with the poet’s permission.
Wash Tub Ablutions
Out in Zip city, everyone knew
that cleanliness was next to
godliness, despite the lack of
modern conveniences, so by day
we relied on the little wooden
outhouse, a test of our bladders
(How long could we wait?) or
our lungs (How long could we
hold our breath?) and at night,
we used the slop jar she slid
beneath our bed. Bathing was
simpler; squatting in a galvanized
wash tub heated with water from
the wood stove as our granny
scrubbed us hard with a clean rag,
a rough brush, and lye soap.
Squealing in mock humiliation,
we relished the tales we’d tell,
returning to our homes in town
as if from some remote village
in Africa. Our skin still raw from
the scrubbing, surely then we felt
just a little closer to God.
Breast Milk and Frozen Okra
Easy enough to ignore the Philco deep freeze
tucked in our garage, bought to hold the catch
from a deep sea fishing trip or the impulse
purchase of a side of beef, the plastic bags
and boxes of some summer’s bounty –
just not this one. It keeps purring alone
out there unnoticed, until the rare urge
to deep clean strikes, and I find myself
digging through last year’s blueberries
or buy-one-get-one deals I couldn’t pass up,
then wondered why. And then I find them
there, near the bottom: three misshapen bags
of mother’s milk, stored unneeded for
my son now old enough to ride his bike
without the training wheels, and next to that,
freezer-burned okra, planted, picked,
mealed and bagged for me by my granny’s
liver-spotted hands I last saw folded across
her chest before the lid was lowered.
Feeling silly, first I cried, then laughed to think
of souvenirs that I might leave behind.
Herself, Only Thinner
She steps in front of the full-length mirror
in the store, glancing right then left
before turning sideways for a look.
Placing her hand over the bulge just
below her waist, she tallies every bite
she’s taken since yesterday, but can’t
account for the change.
Why can’t they see what she sees?
How can they deny what’s in plain sight?
She feels hunger gnaw at her insides,
giving herself a silent “Good girl” for
resisting every offer of just one sliver,
one tiny bite, for moving the food
around on her plate, cutting it into
smaller and smaller bites but eating
none, hoping that one day
she’ll see what they claim they see:
herself, only thinner.
Washtub Ablutions was previously published in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
Nancy answers my questions ~
I can’t remember when I didn’t write poetry! I started back writing seriously about ten years ago, but I remember that in high school I was in our high school beauty pageant (representing the debate club if that explains my presence there!) Instead of singing “Color My World” or something like that, I recited poems I had written. I’m sure they were typical high school poems, but I remember some of the popular girls coming up afterwards and telling me they wrote poems too.
I’ve been fortunate enough to share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with some of my favorite poets, since many of my favorites are those generous North Carolina poets. I’d love to spend some time with Natasha Tretheway, Billy Collins, or Ted Kooser to hear about how being National Poet Laureate changed them. I’d like to know how good it must feel to be able to introduce people to poetry in a fresh new way.