My South

by Natalie F. Anderson '70

in memory of Elize Smith Hodges and Nathalie Heyward FitzSimons, my grandmothers.

Say that you’re a good woman, and a child
comes to your house. It’s a small house, tidy,
just like its neighbors, and you’re just like
your neighbors, too: tidy, generous, polite.
No witch lives here. There’s no rope, no hood, no knife.
But now you see your house through the child’s eyes.
Maybe you’ve taken one step, or two, to the side
of your neighbors, but we’re not talking insight;
maybe you’re Christian, but we’re not talking wise.
You look at your house, and you think “No child
will learn exclusion at my table,” or, “This child
will learn open-heartedness from my honest smile.”
The moment comes when you must change your life,
but how will you know when you have changed enough?

I look at the past, and I see what you see.
I too can say “this will not suffice,
this domestic compromise, this domestic lie.”
I see the limitation – because they showed me.
So here is your assignment: list out
everything you want that child to learn,
today, tomorrow – all the ways you can
imagine for these women to be good.
You’ll have to hurry with your answers.
Already the biscuits are cooling; ham fat
thickens in white ribbons over the string beans;
already melting ice begins to water
the sweetened undercurrents of the tea. Hurry.
Lunch is on the table. It is 1953.