He dressed in khaki the way all farmers did in those days: not blue collar but quasi-military. He was never a member of the armed forces, but he mimicked war as chameleons mimic leaves. Born in 1860, he began his life embedded in a landscape embroiled. His father died in a military prison; at nine he learned to plow ten acres a day with a mule. His homeland humbled, he carried conflict in his memory. “I sat on a split-rail fence and shouted at the Federals as they marched into town, ‘You killed my father!’” At twenty he lost his right hand in a skirmish with a corn auger. Domestic life was a battle in which he either subdued each of his thirteen children or forced them into exile: Great-uncle Ralph to Arkansas, my grandmother to marriage; the rest he colonized. In his prime he served in the Mississippi legislature but remained as he began: intelligent, ignorant, and tyrannical. “After the war,” he said, “we tore down the smokehouse and dug up the dirt for salt.” For him, everything was the War and after the War. I was born into the far end of his war; in the 1950s and ’60s it was civil rights; the three volunteers who died in Philadelphia, Mississippi, were forty miles away, but they might as well have been murdered in our backyard. He was on the wrong side, again, but he didn’t live to see it. To be born in that place and those times, his as well as mine, meant conflict. To be a farmer means to reap and sow. He never fought, but he was scarred. I never farmed, but in memory of him I still plow his field. [End Page 62]
T. R. Hummer’s most recent book of poems is Ephemeron (LSU P), and his latest book of essays is Available Surfaces (U of Michigan P). A new book of poems, Skandalon (LSU P), is forthcoming.