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The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

Something Calling My Name


There are times when I really miss it. I wish I had some dirt right now.           
            Fannie Glass, a clay-eater, who has been off dirt for over a year,
            at her husband’s request.

 

I try to tell him. But he won’t hear.
Earl, I say, it’s safe, it’s clean
if you dig below where man has been,
deep to the first blackness.
I tell him. But he won’t hear.
Says my mouth used to taste like mud,
made him want to spit.

I try to tell him how fine it was.
When I was big with Earl Junior and Shad,
I laid on my back, my belly all swelled
like the high dirt hills
sloping down to the bank
above the gravel road by Mama’s.
And I’d dream it. Rich and black after rain.
Like something calling my name.

I say Earl, remember? That spring in Chicago,
I thought I’d die, my mouth all tasteless,
waiting for Wednesdays, shoeboxes
full of the smell of home.
The postman, he’s scratch his head,
but he kept on bringing. Bless Mama.
She baked it right, the way I like.
Vinegar-sprinkled. And salt.
I’d carry it in the little red pouch
or loose in my apron pocket
and when the day got too long and dry
and Earl home too late for loving,
I’d have me a taste. It saved me, it did.
And when we finally made it back,
the smell of Alabama soil
poured itself right through me.
I sang again and things were fine
till the night he leaned back and said
No More, his man-smells all rich
and mixed up with evening. Right there,
laying by me, he made me choose
between his kisses and my clay.

Now afternoons when it gets too much,
I reach for the stuff he gave me.
Baking soda. Starch. I’ve tried it all.
But I don’t hold with it.
It crunches good, but it’s all bleached out
and pasty. It just don’t take the place.

Earl, I say, I’ve given it up.
And right then, I have.
But sometimes on summer nights like this
when the clouds hang heavy
and I hear that first rumble and the earth
peels itself back and the crust darkens
and the underneath soil bubbles up
damp and flavored, it all comes back
and I believe I’d do anything
to kneel at that bank
above the gravel road by Mama’s
and dig in deep till my arms are smeared
and scoop it wet to my mouth.


From Mrs. Houdini

Something Calling My Name
Rebecca reads this poem
on PRI's Living on Earth


More Poems on Other Voices, Other Worlds

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