The draft of this post has been sitting on my computer for months. I have been uncertain about whether I should publish it or not. Recent events have helped me to decide to add my voice to those of millions of others:
I have never before tortured my readers with my poetry, and I promise I shall never do it again. I am also mindful that with this post, I may lose some of my readers. I hope not. This particular piece has been gathering dust in the growing stack of my unpublished poems and essays, but the thought behind it has been percolating in my brain for a long time. I hope you read it in the spirit in which it was written. It would be wonderful if our nation could begin to come together again in congenial dialogue without recriminations, as we have so many times before in times of crisis.
SAINT PAUL BOTTOMS
Named for Saint Paul
though he never visited, never wrote
so it just became the Bottoms
below Fairfield Hill,
unpainted shotgun houses,
slanted porches falling off brick piers.
City Fathers thought the name
undignified, not in keeping
with their New South image,
Ledbetter Heights sounded good.
Named after Lead Belly,
the black blues man
who played in dark bordellos when
the Bottoms glowed in red lights.
The new name didn’t change
the neighborhood nor raise it up so that folks
could look into the mansions on the Hill.
Still overgrown with may haws,
vines and poison ivy.
Still filled with kids
in ragged pants, holes in the knees.
Still heavy with the smells:
pokeweed, fatback, pot liquor, cornbread.
The city hasn’t changed much either
since those heady days,
last capital of the
When I lived there,
our neighbors woke,
cross burning in their front yard.
The week I moved away,
a man and his son,
about ten years old,
dressed in white robes,
sat on a pickup tailgate
waving huge Confederate flags
in front of the high school.
These days no burning
crosses, no white hoods,
but unchanged feelings
remain in many hearts
that beat in the pews on Sunday.
Still fighting the Civil War.
12 responses to “SAINT PAUL BOTTOMS”
It’s a lovely, poignant, sorrow-filled poem, and its truth is a shame on our nation. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks, Diane, for your kind comments. Your affirmation means a lot. All the best to you.
I agree with Diane — and I certainly hope you don’t lose any readers because of it. That would be a terrible commentary on what we have become.
What a day for you to decide to take the leap of faith and send this poem out! Today’s turn of events calls for courage and conviction more than ever! Some things haven’t changed in this country. I am just praying that our democracy can survive. Thank you for this poem!
Thanks, Kayce, for your comments. These are difficult times: I’m reminded of 1968. We’ll get through it, I hope. I would suggest you read a wonderful article on Politico – “Never Trumpers Will Want to Read This History Lesson” about the political lead-up to the Civil War. We forget that we have been through tribalism many times in our country. Best wishes.
Thank you, Tom. I trust that we will get through these difficult times.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your encouragement
Your poem struck me as I know how it was back then. I was raised in rural Texas in the 50 & 60’s and witness much of what your poem references. Until recently I truly believed things had changed for the better since then. But, in recent months I’ve been sadly been reminded it hasn’t. It makes me so sad and mad that it still rings true today. Especially, in the political arena.
Didn’t loose a reader with me, but you did gain the respect of this reader.
Thanks, Ron, for your generous comments. I continue to hope that we will get through this difficult time of extreme partisanship and fractiousness.
Thank you for sharing this.
Glad you read it and commented. Hope it resonates with you.