By EVE HOFFMAN
Turnip greens, green beans, green tomatoes
in the garden just outside Miss Lizzie’s screen door,
Mason jars of yellow-orange peaches, dense purple-red beets,
slow-cooked chicken dripping from the bone,
She had raised the chicken, wrung its neck, watched it
flap and flop all over the yard, blood soaking the ground.
Her father took her out of school at ten,
put her to work in the Georgia fields,
Girls don’t need to learn to read.
Sweet acrid collards, creamed corn,
Big Boy and Beefsteak tomatoes.
Once the law allowed Miss Lizzie never missed voting,
In Sunday-best, hair freed from the rag
she tied around it most days and braided into a crown,
she rode to the polls with my mother who wore
gathered skirts, tailored blouses and sweater sets,
a soft bun at the nape of her neck, a little rouge her only make-up.
Ages identical, skin colors and stations not,
these women named one another “Sister,”
shared five decades of secrets,
I’m gonna take what I know to the grave, so jus’ don’t ask,
but at eighty-five
she told me of the day she stood between my mother’s parents
until they made peace—no other details,
of anger with her father for cutting short her education,
I could have been something!!
Chestnuts freed from porcupine burrs,
Sweet potato pies cooling on the windowsill.
Warmth flooded Miss Lizzie’s winter kitchen,
sweat beads lined her summer brow, one-eighth Cherokee,
We were forbidden to mention her Indian heritage,
She’d been taught
Indian blood is dirty,
We wondered if one-eighth accounted
for her acute hearing, her dead-eye shot with a rifle,
the generations she took under her wing.
Sometimes she’d come by,
Can I borrow a little change?
always for someone else—for bail, for brakes,
a funeral, a back alley abortion or to repair one,
We knew better than to ask,
nor to mention her husband,
succumbed to syphilis before I was born.
Black-eyed peas shelled into a white enameled pot,
Butter rounds crosshatched with the handle of a knife,
A twelve-inch black iron skillet of steaming corn bread.
Eve Hoffman has been published by the Georgia Humanities Council, Emory Center for Ethics and online, and her work is performed by the Senior Ensemble of the Academy Theatre. She has published three anthologies of Georgia public school student writing and has documented stories of 23 models to accompany paintings of these individuals in A Celebration of Healing: Lives Impacted by Breast Cancer.
*Editor’s Note: This poem was a finalist in The 2008 New Southerner Literary Contest.