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  • Poetic License
  • Stephanie Pruitt (bio)

Adelia's Lesson*

June 1842

Sarah taught Eliza who showed Naomi the way.Naomi guided Phyllis and she passed it along to Bellwho met me at sundown behind the curing barnon the day she'd heard my blood had come.De mens gon visit wuns dey nos yous ripe.Keep clean an don't go tuh de Missus fuh rags.

In silence, she walked me almost half a night's time through the fieldspast Braden's Farm, across Manskers Creek and onto the edgeof Vaughn's Plantation. Step inside de row. Stay lowbelow de blooms. Don't russle de stawks. N'er take moredan two bolls from each plant an yoos yo skirt fuh bundlin.

I was no longer at Stonebrook hanging clothes on a line, watchingrows of corn ease towards the horizon, hearing the horses brokenand mated under the hands of Black Joe. This white softness won't givefrom the husk easy. Wun uh us's go tuh gather de cottun fuh alluh de guls,e'ry full moon. Yous gone get enuff fuh alluh us by yo self nekst time.

Crossing back over the creek, I raise my bundled skirt, lower myselfand wash the stickiness from my thighs. I leave the cloth torn from Young Miss'sold dress and let Bell show me how far inside to push the cotton.Her calloused fingers stir inside me with each word.Count de pieces an make sho tuh get em all out.I hear the muffled voice of Young Miss's teacher: one—two—three—four . . .At de en uh yo floodin gim tuh Henry, an when he go tuh digginde nekst grave, he'll toss alluh us's ole darkened cottun in. [End Page 99]

Bell's Work Song #6

Taint hahd tendin dees tasks yuh no,jus dull as wachin de korn gro.See de trik is on de inside:Whilst yuh hans gatha de bushool,yuh gots tuh hook intuh uh thangmytee'r an wider dan here.uh thang fah off an not ruhted,sum'n caint nobody mej'r.

Field Report #6

The work is simple, but dull.Good laborers find a groove,leave their bodies and steep intheir own simple thoughts and songs.

Bell's Work Song #42

She mah sistuh but she aint kin,not lak de wuns ah wuhk nekst tuh.Thru ma we luvs jus de same doe.She talk lak uh white magnolyaan aint got de sens to keep low.Sho, she got huh own tears tuh tend.Rekon dey calls huh name all deyuhdellya uhdellya nite too.

Field Report #42

Same mother, different fathernurtures a gap wide and strange.One sees the world spinning fast,other spins it, both are pained. [End Page 100]

Incantation for Escape

January 1845

lift body save mindfold urge palm hymnhear song deep downsing long melt hurt

burn past pull freeherd dawn fill bagsdrag sack curl stepopen when safe away

feel rise move feargive alms bind acheflee here hold windblow hard sail wide

lock arms loop hopewing sewn heal soulland soft bird girlroot self rest long


July 1848

All proper ladies have one.In mine, I keep needlework,and such.

Late evenings, years ago, Young Miss slidinto my side room with rags and thread,teaching stitches she too, worked to master.After three full moons of her showing, she covetedmy tight knots, fluid letters snaking the fabric.

One morning, as they dressed, (my ear to the bedroom door)I heard Mistress tell Young Miss about the ways of women:Into a white linen, she said, [End Page 101]

stitch his initials wreathed by creeping vinenestling moonflower buds.On bathing day, keep the clothin a lidded box of lilac. That nightpress it to your lady parts.Every tightly stitched knot will fill with your blooming.Gift this hanky to your intended. At each face-wiping,his nose will open, cravings will unbuckleand his affections will be hinged to you.

The Teeth and Tongue

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