Monday, June 29, 2015

Poem Without a Name by John Ballard

This is a repost from Accidental Blogger, an erudite place where I was allowed to contribute before it went inactive. Recent discussions of Southern history reminded me of this. I wrote it about 1960 and published it when I came across it in 2012.

In a few hours I'm having lunch with an old classmate whom I haven't seen for many years. So last night I was digging through a box of keepsakes from high school and college days and came across something I wrote in high school.

I totally forgot about this poem. It is in my handwriting on notebook paper that I recognize. And as I typed it to make a digital record the scene became vaguely familiar, and reference to “the Chumbley place” meant that it had to have been a product of my imagination. Finally the odd words pinen and pecanen were the clues that made me remember. They were my own invention, made to match oaken as wood types. The characters were Sandra and her husband Cass. Together they spell Cassandra, a name that tells the future.

Since there is no chance it will ever be published by anyone else, in the interest of vanity I'm publishing it myself.
I'm also vain enough to think it has held up pretty well after fifty years.


The fire was not as warm
As it was the hour before.
The two were not the same
As they sat before it, sitting
As it glowed on.
A coal oil lantern
Was on the table,
That rough oaken stand
By the spinning wheel.
The packed dirt floor And open ceiling rafters
And the mud-plastered walls
All were a dark and dark-purple hue
The bricks on the hearth were of uneven lay
They were in great need
To be replaced
As did, in fact, the scene in its entirety.

Cobwebs in the corner were dusty,
Pegs in the chimney were loose.
The furniture was old
A cradle, occupied
A double bed, cold
A stool of three legs, pinen
A split-log bench, picanen
A straight-back chair, Sandra
Another, Cass
And the table, oaken.

She spoke
And when will you get back?
And he It shouldn’t be over six days.
And in the meantime what will we do, me and little Cassy?
You can go up to the Chumbley place and tell them the problem.
They’ll understand; you can get with them and might get a job or something.
They’ll understand.
But you…
I’ll find him as soon as I get there and be coming right back.
He can fix us up to last till next year’s crops get harvested.
The Lord willing.
The Lord willing.
But we have to go to bed.
It’s after ten.

He left the following morning
Afoot he was down the roadway.
And beburdened with a bundle
A piece of dried beef
A tough little loaf
And cheese

She drew a bit of cloth
Soft it was, and stained, her handkerchief.
And put it to an eye
Where it drank up
A warm tear.

Turning to the house…
And catching her breath…
She went to her baby.
Gathering the drowsy infant In her off-pink shawl,
That was old when given her,

She left her home,
That beloved room that was a shack and leaked
And trudged up the road In the opposite direction
That had taken her husband.
The shoes that she wore
Without socks, and formerly brown
Were once those of another
The heels were folded down
The side seams were very weak.
Her dress was black polka dots
Set on a background of red.
A tear from the waist at the side
Was held by a large safety pin.
The checked and faded cloth
Over her ebony hair
Was knotted in the front
Just over her forehead,
And her forehead was the
Color of her shoes.

Posted by John Ballard at 07:47 AM | Permalink

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