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Southern Cultures 8.1 (2002) 101-103

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Mason-Dixon Lines

Thunder and A Southern Rhetoric
Two Poems by Cathy Smith Bowers



My husband calls
from his month-long trip to California
still nursing the anger
he left me holding like a small child
in the dwindling window of the airport

and hears from my side of the continent
the crack of thunder.
And yes, yes
that is what he misses most
about South Carolina.

Not the dust rising
in red puffs above the corn.
Not the lakes of carp and catfish
turning deep
in their tentative dreams of flight.

But the way
when the land is long given up for dead
and farmers have disinherited the sky
for good this time
it breaks sudden and big as forgiveness.

They don't have that here, he says
as if he were speaking
of grits or Dixie beer
or a woman
who would stand in a storm
holding the receiver to the sky. [End Page 102]

A Southern Rhetoric

"It's a sight in this world
the things in this world
there are to see," my mother says
as she hurries between the stove
and Sunday table. She is just back
from vacation. Happy.
Talking mountains. Talking rivers.
Big cedars and tidal bores.
When I tease her for redundancy,
her face glows like a sturgeon moon
risen above fat buttery atolls
of biscuits, steaming promontory
of roast. She shakes her finger
in my face and scolds me good:
"Girl, don't you forget who it was
learned you to talk."

Amazing she would want
to lay claim to these syllables
piling up like railroad salvage
when I speak, to these words slow as hooves
dredging from the wet of just-plowed fields.
I watch her turn, embarrassed, to the sink,
to the pots and pans she will scrub
to a gleam so bright we can see ourselves
as if the two of us stared back
from the lost rhetoric of memory.
From the little house, the crib
where she bent each day, naming
for me the world where words always fail,
warranting, now and then,
those few extra syllables,
some things spoken twice.


Cathy Smith Bowers is Poet-in-Residence at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in many publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review. The poems featured in this issue appeared in her books The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas and Traveling in Time of Danger, both from Iris Press.


"Thunder" appeared in The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas (1998), and "A Southern Rhetoric" in Traveling in Time of Danger (1999), both by Cathy Smith Bowers. Reprinted with the permission of the author and Iris Press.



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pp. 101-103
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