Social History

Bobby Rogers Click to read more...

Headshot Bobby C. RogersBobby C. Rogers is Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  His book Paper Anniversary won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and was nominated for the Poets’ Prize.  LSU will publish his next book, Social History, in early 2016 as part of their Southern Messenger Poets series.  He has recently received a grant from the NEA and been named Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress.  He lives in Memphis with his wife and son and daughter.

My hands were on the wheel but no one would have called it driving that morning Rube Lacey took
                 me for a ride
on his tractor. “The boy won’t forget this,” I heard my father say as he boosted me up to the seat,
                 and the shuddering
and racket of the old Case-International began to cut a furrow into my memory as sharp as dates in
                 a headstone.

We were there to visit the ruins, the shabby places my father had lived during the Depression. I
                 would one day be taught
to call it vernacular architecture, devoid of detail and never intended to survive, a two-room share
                 croppers’ shack tilting
eastward, its sawmill siding paint-shorn and gapped. I wasn’t surprised by my father’s love for Rube
                 Lacey. At six years old

I had no theory for anything. It was the last time: every shred of light would soon enough become
                 a premise to be argued. At the end
of the field where the rows of corn stubble dwindled into broom sage and scrub cedar, the
                 abandoned shack
still squatted in the weeds, a spindly pin oak volunteer twisting upward through the gray boards of
                 the porch, all of it as salted with story

as one of those Walker Evans photographs, but with a soundtrack of wind cry and diesel grind. To
                 me it was just a day
not far from ordinary, the two men going over their silvery memories of my father’s family tenanting
                 and deeply in debt
on the Lacey farm. The old landlord still owned the place the way he always had, the way our
                 nostalgia owns us and will be paid

its share of the truth. Now what surprises me is how something as piecemeal as a pile of drawled
                 out words
can be whipped together into an airy apology to render any bitter fact palatable and just. That must
                 have been the reason
he brought me that day, to gild the past with a shine like the sweet glaze on a fruit pie fresh from the
                 fryer grease.

It would be a decade yet before our wars got going in earnest, before I began to stand up and
                 challenge his model
of the past with sullen remarks like “I bet Rube Lacey don’t bore his kids with any stories of going
                 to bed hungry.”
If we have to, we’ll burn a swath across Georgia to be the one who writes the history. As he backed
                 the car down the gravel drive,

the wind was prying at a section of the shack’s tin roof. I would be a long time learning to paper my
                 thin meanings
onto every porous wall, seams tight and pattern unbroken. My father didn’t glance over, but I
                  couldn’t help taking one last look
at the pin oak, dormant like everything else that time of year, grown up through the floorboards only
                 a little bit bent.

Discussion

One Response to Social History

  1. Brian Slusher says:

    That pin oak is an excellent finish, settling sure the poem’s discussion of memory with a very real tree “grown up through the floorboards only / a little bit bent”–like our personal narratives, insistent and a bit crooked. Nice work.

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