Tobacco

Kathrine Stripling Byer Click to read more...

byerThe fifth North Carolina Poet Laureate, Katherine Stripling Byer was born in Georgia and now lives in Cullowhee, N.C. She has taught at various colleges, including Western Carolina University and maintains the blog she began as poet laureate. Byers nine collections of poetry include Wildwood Flower, Black Shawl and the recent Descent (LSU, 2012). She has received the SIBA Book Award in Poetry twice and is a member of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.  “Tobacco” originally appeared in Shenandoah 45/3.

Grandmama chewed
mouthfuls ripe as
wild plums. Spat. Missed
houseflies and hound

dogs that stirred up
the dust. Her front
porch mottled brown.
Honey, idle

that cuspidor
closer, can’t see
where I’m aiming.
I pushed the can

close with a stick.
Ran. She don’t miss
a trick, said her
old man who hid

in the shed with
his whiskey. She
sees better, hears
better, what’s more

she’ll live longer’n
you or me. Don’t
ever ask her
for anything,

Mama said. She
won’t say doodley-
squat. Just let her
sit. Chew her cud.

Cow. The devil
take her black tongue.

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Discussion

One Response to Tobacco

  1. Isabelle says:

    I love this poem for its simplicity and its subtle portrait of a hardened grandmother. The image of a mouthful of tobacco “ripe as/wild plums” suggests a sort of innocent pleasure to the grandmother’s bad habit, and further convey some kind of youthfulness in her that is furthered in the line, “she’ll live longer’n/you or me.” This contrasts with her apparent solitude, and the fact that she “won’t say doodley-/squat.” Wise and seemingly steadfast in her ways, the grandmother represents an insurmountable force and fixture in the life of the narrator. Even though the final line presents a dark, even malicious tone, it is apparent that the grandmother is sturdy like a cow, and resists both human interaction as well as deterioration by maintaining her stringent ways.

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