Southern Cultures 10.1 (2004) 85-86
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Mill Village and The Stretch-Out
Two Poems By Ron Rash
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|Figure 1 |
"But what was done was done. Before too long / the weave room jarred the hearing from my ears, / and I got used to living with a crowd." Inside a cotton textile mill, circa 1910, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Mill houses lined both sides of every road
like boxcars on a track. They were so close
a man could piss off of his own front porch,
hit four houses if he had the wind.
Everytime your neighbors had a fight,
then made up in bed as couples do,
came home drunk, played the radio,
you knew, whether or not you wanted to. [End Page 85]
So I bought a dimestore picture, a country scene,
built a frame and nailed it on the wall,
no people in it, just a lot of land,
stretching out behind an empty barn.
Sometimes at night if I was feeling low,
I'd stuff my ears with cotton. Then I'd stare
up at that picture like it was a window,
and I was back home listening to the farm.
But what was done was done. Before too long
the weave room jarred the hearing from my ears,
and I got used to living with a crowd.
Before too long I took the picture down.
I was only seventeen, a girl
who still could trust a suit and smile.
"Let's see how fast these looms will run,"
he said, a stopwatch in his palm.
Those first nights when I got back home
I swear I could hardly raise my fork.
I'd fall asleep with my clothes still on,
still weary when the whistle blew.
The child inside me felt it too,
and right then seemed to just give up.
I felt its life bleed out of me.
I cried but I cried quietly
and let the sheets slicken and stain,
so my man might lie and save what strength,
what hope a good night's rest might give.
I closed my eyes and slept again.
Ron Rash is director of Appalachian studies at Western Carolina University and author of several books of poetry and fiction. His novel Saints at the River will be published this year by Henry Holt.
Ed. note: These poems appeared in Ron Rash's Eureka Mill, published by Bench Press and republished by the Hub City Writers' Project.