Mason-Dixon Lines (Part III)

Southern Cultures, with Abigail Lee

"As trees leaf out and the landscape thickens with green," Southern Cultures shares two poems from its "Mason–Dixon Lines" feature.

In the heat of summer, as trees leaf out and the landscape thickens with green, the boundaries between inside and outside seem to break down. The speakers of these two poems of summer examine the blurred lines between place, self, and memory. In Charles Wright’s poem “All Landscape Is Abstract, and Tends to Repeat Itself,” a speaker sits down to write, exploring remembered landscapes. He carries the world within, summer blooming under his skin “the way a bee leaves its sting.”

The speaker in Tammy L. Brown’s poem “Backwater Graffiti” interacts with her setting differently, writing herself onto it, scratching L’s “on    sandstone    bark.” Brown writes, “i butterfly,     i  honeysuckle,” turning the landscape into action that carries her speaker outward, in contrast to the inward, reflective energy of Wright’s poem.

These poems show us two different ways to live through a summer. Brown’s speaker ranges across the landscape, leaving her mark, while Wright’s speaker reminds us that “all forms of landscape are autobiographical,” concerned with the marks the landscape has left on him. One poem calls its readers to reflect on summers past, and the other urges readers to go out and live this one. —Abigail Lee

All Landscape is Abstract, and Tends to Repeat Itself

by Charles Wright
Southern Cultures, Vol. 7, No.3: Fall 2001

I came to my senses with a pencil in my hand
And a piece of paper in front of me.
To the years
Before the pencil, O, I was the resurrection.
Still, who knows where the soul goes,
Up or down,
after the light switch is turned off, who knows?
It’s late August, and prophets are calling their bears in.
The sacred is frightening to the astral body,
As is its absence.
We have to choose which fear is our consolation.
Everything comes ex alto,
We’d like to believe, the origin and the end, or
Non-origin and the non-end,
each distant and inaccessible.
Over the Blue Ridge, the whisperer starts to whisper in tongues.
Remembered landscapes are left in me
The way a bee leaves its sting,
hopelessly, passion-placed,
Untranslatable language.
Non-mystical, insoluble in blood, they act as an opposite
To the absolute, whose words are a solitude, and set to music.
All forms of landscape are autobiographical.

Charles Wright, one of the leading lights of contemporary American poetry, received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 collection of poems, Black Zodiac. The author of twelve volumes of poetry, he currently teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia.

Photograph by Aaron Blum, published in "Almost Heaven," a photo essay in Southern Cultures, Vol, 23, No. 1: Appalachia.

Backwater Graffiti

by Tammy L. Brown
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 3: Fall 2012

what’s my name?   “L”  sometimes lula   sometimes belle
some times lulabelle   i scratch L’s   on   sandstone   bark
black bottom of syrup boiled vats   in lost love   holiness
l o n e some
i crack twig-rich puddles like sunburnt bones
tread mud-covered leaves   skip pebbles over icy silver   i build
L’s out of licorice root and lilac
i steal lace to look like a lady
sometimes i’m holy
sometimes i’m wholey sinning
i call on the lord    i laugh through lashings    i be the lord    i
like to sing:
Nobody Knows
i butterfly    i honeysuckle    i eel— scaleless
slither in liquid lightning    i cane liquor— memory still licked from
the rim   i am   i am the “L” carved on my left calf by my Ma to recall me.

Tammy L. Brown is Assistant Professor of Black World Studies and History at Miami University of Ohio. Her book City of Islands: Caribbean Intellectuals in New York (The University Press of Mississippi, 2015) uses the life stories of Caribbean intellectuals as “windows” into the dynamic history of immigration to New York and the long battle for racial equality in modern America.

Abigail Lee is a poet and a PhD student in English at UNCChapel Hill. Her work has been published by Mid-American Review, Bayou Magazine, CALYX, and others.

Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle), 1919. Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London., Vol. 145.