My Carolina Voices at Suppertime
Drawn out vowels hang heavy
in air already thick with moisture.
Languid voices set the table
with a checkered cloth and the profligate use of “ain’t.”
We have fixin’s and suppertime instead
of hors d’oeuvres and dinner.
She’s sweet as pie, but she don’t have the sense
God gave a June bug! Bless her heart.
A child with a wooden spoon adds one more cup
of sugar in sun-brewed sweet tea while adults discuss,
in hushed tones, the impropriety of a white girl
dating a black boy. It’s 2012, but the careless
tones of women in the kitchen throw back
to the 1950s.
Laws, darlin’, use some butter in that cooking!
Lordy-be; tuck your shirt in
and button up girl; you ain’t a hussy. As if
one button, unbuttoned, means I’ll do the same.
As if race even really matters, as if
dating a black boy means you haven’t been raised right.
We set the table with ‘mater sandwiches
spread with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper;
mush-melon, a sweet, overgrown cantaloupe;
and banana puddin’. And my hands shake
so much that I can’t straighten the silverware,
that I knock over the mercury glass vase full
of sunflowers, and I cannot understand
how my people can be so backwards
and I can still love them so much.
A few things:
One, this is a much revised version of the original The Voices of the South at Suppertime. Two, this is one of those “let the poem be what it wants to be” times and not one of those “stay absolutely factually true” times. So I would just ask that you take the poem for what it is and know that, while the sentiments have (in my experience) been very commonly expressed where I’m from, this piece is not any indication of my actual family.
Thanks. I hope you enjoy it.