Tag Archives: Lead Belly


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 This particular piece has been gathering dust in the growing stack of my unpublished poems and essays, but the thought behind it has been percolating in my brain for a long time.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.


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
dying Confederacy.

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,
sheets really,
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.


Filed under poetry