Poet Jacquelyn Malone writes about the Old South– but not the one with a gentile, romantic gloss. Malone is the editor of the Mass Poetry Festival website, and has been widely published. Her latest collection from the Finishing Line Press is All Waters Run to Lethe.
In the Existential South
“You know, I bombed that church,”
What Bobby Frank Cherry—Dynamite Bob—said, according to testimony given at his trial thirty-eight years later. .
On the night before, Denise and Carole, Cynthia
and Addie Mae were sleeping their last hours;
the white preachers of Birmingham were dreaming
their last innocent night; and under the bridge, where
the southern summers are always dank, the men met
in the meanness of their lives – on their haunches,
drunk and plotting.
That Sunday we drew into our lungs
a knowledge of sin that smelled
like shoe polish and ironed cotton. The book
on every lap was a tangle of tales outside of time, though
here and there, even a child was caught up
by the power of sin, power that, packed in the mind,
exploded like candy explodes in a rotten tooth.
The wife of Dynamite Bob could name
the twelve sons of Israel. She knew a murderer
wore the mark of Cain, knowledge so bitter it was years
before her mouth opened to name or pray. But that day
a garnered weight pressed down like an ocean
of summer heat, steaming our prim streets.
At our Sunday dinners, we watched
as the news from New York was all Birmingham.
And the floors of our churches slid out
from under us as sin boiled up beneath
like a hell that was always there.
– Jacquelyn Malone
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