“Photograph, 1983” and “Sandbagging”

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“Photograph, 1983” and “Sandbagging”

by Rachel Richardson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 16, No. 1: Spring 2010

"The warden says fill and you fill it."

Photograph, 1983
for Lola Bell

When you and my grandmother both got old,
and she could not bear
the empty house, and all your children
were gone as well, some nights the two of you

crawled into her brass bed
“like a pair of old spinsters,” your sister
says. I am learning so late
how it was. You and my grandmother:

born the same year, and both
your husbands went to fight in the war,
though yours never returned.
And in this picture

my grandmother must have taken it
you’re smiling, probably because
we’ve been told to. And I’m smiling, too,
fierce with new teeth:

we’re a girl in an Easter dress
caked with mud, gripped by a woman
half blind, lock-kneed, starched.
We are still standing there, looking out.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, 1997

To highway-road,
to rock-build.
To tree-split,

Prisoner porter,
prisoner freight.

To hammer,
to hammer.

You hold bags open,
you funnel
the sand.
You tie them
closed and load
to the truckbed.

Prisoner faithful,
prison of storms.

To harbor
and winnow,
to salvage.
Your mothers
you bolster.

The warden says fill
and you fill it.

The river says

and you still it.