Don’t Look Now

Sun angles through the maple branches
with a glare that signals winter. The coming
cold.

He looks at his face in the mirror
and sees an old man. He holds the glass
with his only working
hand, the left.

She banged on the sink as
if calling a classroom or courtroom
to order. No one in attendance.

He went fishing. He flew places, drove
places, hiked and paddled to pristine trout
streams in the Rockies. Pilgrimages requiring
two working hands, two working legs.
The time before. How is it possible to
feel nostalgia for someone else’s life?

They stick her on one end of
the trio for the photo though
she is the middle child. An irrevocable status.

He cannot be bought.
She cannot be reversed.
He cannot waste any more time.
He has all the time in the world.
She has lost her grace.
He has lost mobility.
She gains nothing in grief.
He gains nothing in grief.

One son photographs great plumes
of smoke over I-70. The other
sails in the Pacific with roommates.
Wearing crocs with socks?

Her brother casts for trout in his mind.
No twitching muscular recall.
Better to remember
than to contemplate the future.

One of them thinks out loud: I better
lock up the morphine. The other one
points out: a handful of Tylenol
and anti-depressants does as well.

She can’t remember her mother’s face
but the laugh is as fresh as the
morning’s breakfast. A cackle.
A smoker’s gurgle. A Leo’s burst
of joy and drama.

She grew up in a house with
scrap paper galore and crayons dumped
into shoe boxes. Creativity a
given, an irrevocable status.

Now she has to check California
fire maps, often. Colorado, too.

In the woods, mushrooms grow.
In the woods, dogs pee and dig.
In the woods, she makes a lonely
pilgrimage, without grace —
an irrevocable status?

She ties up her hair. Hates it
up. Hates it down.

November will be bleak.
December even more so.
The question is: how bleak?

He leans back. Even that
requires an aide and a motor.

She pulls a face in the
mirror and now remembers
her mother – the jaw line revised
by surgery, the hair bleached
blonde – a certain smug determination.

She, the daughter, is full of doubt,
something her mother never understood.

She lifts his dead right hand
and is shocked, not at its
swollen lifelessness, but at how
much the freckled skin resembles her father’s.

She applies cream to his calves, little scabs
on the backsides. She recalls the staples
running like a zipper up her father’s leg
where they removed veins to install
in his heart.

Her brother’s heart is not at
issue. It’s a peony splash
of blood mid-brain. An
interruption of signals. Language comes
back, syllable by syllable. Much
rejoicing when he at last spits out
the year of his birth.

He’s outlived their father by seven
years. She’s outlived their mother
by one. Three more months before
she outlives her sister. 54, 62, 64.

And so, when she spread the red silk
out on the work table, it called up
death – the one true thing. How
the dog barked!

The cloth was right where she remembered
putting it — a surprise, for often
memory and placement do not line
up. Forgetting
an irrevocable status.

Onto the cloth go the Magician’s
tools: a pewter jug for cups, a piece
of driftwood for wands, a
pair of scissors for swords, and an
amethyst geode for pentacles.

But, so what? There’s that doubt.

Later she places a bone bleached by the sun
right in the center of the red silk. The marrow
exposed. It’s settled! We are
the only creatures
who know that we will die.

She has no fear of red. No loathing. There were red
cloth dolls, red cloth skies, red cloth villages, cloth
poppies, and red paper accents. Some reds
neutral, others carrying the weight of remembrance
or the badge of predation.


A red hoodie calls to mind a film
set in Venice — do you know the one?
Donald Sutherland goes to Italy, a man
bereft, his child recently dead. He chases a little
figure in a red slicker through the ancient
city — over bridges and around
stone edifices. He thinks it’s
his daughter. Is she not dead?

When at last they meet, it
is not at all as expected. Under the red hood:
a small person, not even a child, and he
greets the grieving father not with rejoicing, but
with Death. He slices open
his pursuer’s throat in a single swipe.

So the tourist thought he went after his beloved,
but chased, as it turns out,
his own death. We can go years chasing
after our own destruction, convincing ourselves otherwise.
“Don’t Look Now.” Death, the one true thing.

Love and hope and redemption are true, too,
as are the ties that bind,
the reverent hands that uplift, the heart that
floods with gratitude. But they are variable, all.
Don’t look now – death is coming for you! It is
the one true thing. But
do not shudder or sweat, it just is
another way of saying, you’re alive.

Bibliography — Historic Fiction, Colonial SC

The following list captures most of the sources read (all or in part) over the last many years as research for the novel I’m calling The Weight of Cloth. I have another notebook to go through though and very few of the websites I consulted are here yet, so it’s not complete.

Ashton, Susanna. I Belong to South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2012.

Blier, Suzanne Preston. The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1998. Print.

Brown, William Wells, et al. The Great Escapes. Barnes & Noble, 2007.

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns. By Ken Burns, Geoffrey C. Ward, and David G. McCullough. Prod. Ric Burns. PBS, 1990.

Camp, Stephanie M. H. Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2004. Print.

Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan. Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Carney, Judith Ann. Black Rice. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Craton, Michael. Empire, Enslavement and Freedom in the Caribbean. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1997.

Douglass, Frederick, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Eaton, Clement. A History of the Old South. Macmillan, 1966.

Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Eglash, Ron. African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Random House Large Print, 2007. Print.

Eyiogbe, Frank Baba. Babalawo, Santeria’s High Priests: Fathers of the Secret in AfroCuban Ifa. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2015. Print.

Farrow, Anne, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. New York: Ballantine, 2005. Print.

Farrow, Anne. The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory. Print.

Feeser, Andrea. Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life. Print.*

Flint, India. Eco Colour. Allen & Unwin, 2008.

Fox, Tryphena Blanche Holder, and Wilma King. A Northern Woman in the Plantation South: Letters of Tryphena Blanche Holder Fox, 1856-1876. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1993. Print.*

Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers. New York: Basic Civitas, 2003. Print.

http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/henry-louis-gates-jr-lecture

Gillow, John. African Textiles. Chronicle Books, 2003.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.*

Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2008. Print.*

Haulman, Kate. The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Hart, Emma. Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-century British Atlantic World. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2010. Print.*

Higginbottom Jr., A. Leon. In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.

Hoffer, Peter Charles, Cry Liberty, The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739. Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember: Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves. Winston-Salem, NC: J.F. Blair, 1989. Print.*

Hurmence, Belinda. My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2013.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Barnes & Noble, 2005.

Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1984. Print.*

Kenslea, Timothy. The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in the Early Republic. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2006. Print.

Krebs, Laurie. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Indigo Planter. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.

Legrand, Catherine. Indigo, The Color that Changed the World, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print..

LeMaster, Michelle, and Bradford J. Wood. Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories. Print.

McCandless, Peter. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

McCarthy, B. Eugene, and Thomas L. Doughton. From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007. Print.

McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds. Oxford University Press, 1995.

McKay, Nellie Y. (editor). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. Print.

McKinley, Catherine E. Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.

Mueller, Pamela Bauer. Water to My Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Jekyll Island, GA: Pinata Pub., 2012. Print.

Mullin, Michael. Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. ACLS History E-Book Project. 2004.

Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti. Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Print.

Nelson, Louis P. The Beauty of Holiness. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Northup, Solomon, and D. Wilson. Twelve Years a Slave Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853. Print.

Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, and Elise Pinckney. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Ed. Marvin R. Zahniser and Elise Pinckney. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 1997. Print.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy, and Sue Alston. John Henry Rutledge: The Ghost of Hampton Plantation: A Parable. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Pub., 1997. Print.

Rhyne, Nancy. Tales of the South Carolina Low Country. John F Blair Pub, 1982.

“Rice Diversity – Educators’ Corner.” Rice Diversity, http://ricediversity.org/outreach/educatorscorner. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Rivers, Larry Eugene. Slavery in Florida, Territorial Days to Emancipation. Florida: University Press, 2009.

Rogers, George C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1969. Print.

Rucker, Walter C. The River Flows On. LSU Press, 2008.

Russell, Franklin. The Okefenokee Swamp. Time-Life Books, 1986.

Rutledge, Archibald. Home by the River. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941. Print.

Rutledge, Sarah. The Carolina Housewife. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1979. Print.

Smith, Mark M. Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 2005. Print.

South Carolina Slave Narratives. S.I.: Native American Book, 2009. Print.

Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.

Twitty, Michael W. The Cooking Gene. HarperCollins, 2018.

Vernon, Amelia Wallace. African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. 1993.

Walsh, Lorena S. From Calabar to Carter’s Grove. Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Williams, Frances Leigh. Plantation Patriot; a Biography of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.

Wood, Peter H. Black Majority; Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Knopf;, 1974. Print.

Wulf, Andrea. Founding Gardeners. Vintage, 2012.

Zacek, Natalie. Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Eliza Lucas – PhD Thesis

Fiction

Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks

Kindred, Octavia Butler

Sapphira and The Slave Girl, Willa Cather

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

The Good Lord Bird and Song Yet Sung, by James McBride

Beloved, Toni Morrison

Water to My Soul, Pamela Mueller

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill

Underground Airlines, Ben White

Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk

Nostalgia, Dennis MacFarland

Plantation Patriot, Francis Leigh Williams

The Indigo Girl, Natasha Boyd

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehesi Coates

Movies / TV

The Civil War (Ken Burns)

The Duchess

Amistad

John Adams – HBO series

Vanity Fair

Daughters of the Dust

Amazing Grace

Harriet

Twelve Years a Slave

Grey Sunday, random notes

Wind and rain are supposed to begin at kick-off of the Patriots’ game and let up around the game’s ending. Ha! Maybe speaking to the end of a dynasty?

This chyron perhaps speaks to the imminent collapse of our hospital systems. Less people might be dying of Covid, but here are two critical problems: health care workers are already burned out and help cannot be secured from other states because the entire country is awash with the disease.

This Atlantic article speaks to all of that.

We walked in the woods this morning. It’s not raining yet. It seemed that some sort of geocaching was afoot because the paths were littered with people staring down at pieces of paper.

One wonders how anything will stay in business. Not that I give a shit about Bloomingdales, but it is a case in point.

I like sheer fabric as much as the next fiber enthusiast but I don’t particularly go for murder as a fashion theme. WTF Style section of the NYTimes?

I didn’t know fat freezing was a thing.

Today I will stitch and watch Love Actually. K commented from the other room yesterday as I actually managed to watch a Hallmark movie in its entirety (I don’t usually). He said, “It sounds like you’re being force fed dead raccoon.”

Don’t ask me where THAT analogy came from!

This time next week, my brother will be at home and it will be his birthday.

Forumulaic Cornball

HALLMARK BINGO is in the works and what a great distraction it is! Coup schmoo! How about a cup of hot cocoa?

Let’s start with the ubiquitous Main Street opener. Picture a quaint Small Town decorated to the max with Christmas lights, wreaths, and signage. A light snow falls. Often, it’s an aerial view followed by shots on the street, where merry shoppers mill about. Generic Western town, usually.

That is, of course, unless we’re starting at Corporate Gal’s office in the Giant, Cold City where it is revealed that she’s lost her Christmas spirit. Arrangements to return to Small Town are required because her Mother/Aunt has died or perhaps she ‘s been assigned to cover a Small Town event for her job.

Big City Boyfriend, if there is one, is delayed or reluctant, giving her time to reconnect with New Love Interest who is sometimes her former beau. New Love Interest understands the values of family, small towns, and Christmas. He manages to fall just short of handsome, but don’t dwell on it otherwise you could spend an entire movie trying to determine why, exactly (is it the jaw? the eyes being a little too small? that awful beard?)

If Big City Boyfriend arrives in Small Town, he will be made to seem shallow, materialistic, and utterly lacking in Christmas Spirit. He will offer no real contest to new Love Interest who wears plaid flannel shirts, drives a pick up, and runs his father’s Christmas tree farm which is — oh no! — in financial peril!

Heroine always has shoulder length hair that she wears down, in soft curls. Usually blonde. Sister/Best Friend often has the exact same hair cut and styling. Heroine will be classically pretty, but may be sporting a too-big-for-prime-time ass and hips. Her or her soon-to-be-beau’s mother will be played by an actress 15-20 years too young for the role.

Look for a Small Town seized with a crisis — oh no! the Holiday Pageant is in trouble! The coordinator of the Christmas Baking Contest has fallen ill! The Outdoor Christmas Music Fest is short of funds! The tradition must go on! Heroine gets roped in to helping and meets up with Love Interest. Overcoming various trials and tribulations (and by December 25th no less!), Heroine proves that she has Small Town values and implausible skill sets.

Sometimes accepting the help of a magical object is the key to learning the Magic of Christmas. Look for magic ornaments, magic stockings, magic letters, magic music boxes.

There’s the obligatory Christmas tree shopping scene, often with smarmy child making the selection. Insert snowball fight, followed by hot cocoa scene. Baking Christmas cookie scene is an absolute must (although Gingerbread house variation is acceptable). Christmas lights might feature prominently — they’re tangled, they’re blowing a fuse, they’re lighting up the angelic face of the smarmy 10-year old child who more than anything in the whole world wants Hero and Heroine to get married.

Ugly Christmas sweaters abound — often upwards of a dozen. Extra points for reindeer socks or ties. Look for a Black character or two strolling about the Holiday Music Store in their Ugly Christmas Sweater. Since Hallmark sprinkles their movies with Black characters, we needn’t call them ‘token,’ but don’t be fooled — they’re all white people walking around in black skin.* A recent movie featured an Asian-American heroine, who was — guess what? A violin virtuoso!

Reindeer or angels will be talked about at least once.

The smarmy child shows up often and generally plays the role of Cupid to Mother/Father. Mother/Father tend to be single or have dead spouses (soldiers, if the latter). There are almost no divorces in the Hallmark universe.

Estates feature prominently. Big City Gal returns to clean out her Mother/Aunt’s mother’s house. The massive chore turns into a series of epiphanies about Small Town Life and Family Love and precipitates a Crisis: will she or won’t she move back? Moving back equals opting for True Love and living out an exemplary (Christian) life of Small Town values.

Look for a reluctant Heroine being convinced to decorate her space with the help of the Love Interest. He may show up at door with a Christmas tree, unbidden. There may be a box of the deceased parent or aunt’s ornaments. Angels! Reindeer! Messages from the Dead! Et Voila! The life-affirming desire to remain in Small Town asserts itself.

If settled, expect 20-somethings to live in palatial homes that run in the 1.8MM to 2.5MM range, with perfectly furnished rooms — places that in real life said characters couldn’t even afford to rent a room in. All interiors will be decorated to within an inch of their lives, unless our Heroine has lost her Christmas spirit, in which case decorating will be a pivotal and redemptive scene (see above).

Prior to 2020: almost no kissing! There’s the chaste scene in a sleigh (extra points for falling snow), where our characters cuddle side by side and MAYBE hold hands. Or, picture a finale when finally all the right decisions have been made and there’s — wait for it — a HUG. Both characters might be wearing Holiday Aprons and perhaps there’s a smarmy 10-year old grinning nearby.

If Hero or Heroine has parents, they are almost as unbearably corny and predictable as the smarmy child Cupid. Married forever. They decorate their houses with an excess of lights, garlands, bows, figurines. They bake cookies in their impossibly spacious kitchens, serve hot cocoa, build roaring fires — often exchanging knowing glances about their Son or Daughter’s yet-to-be admitted love interest.

Look for characters named Melody, Noelle, Ivy, Holly, Kris, or Nick. Listen for the phrase: the magic of Christmas. Count poinsettias. Be sure to note Christmas caroling, generally including at least one smarmy child. Be on the lookout for: Christmas Brooch, Salvation Army bell-ringer, red bows, outfits of red and green. A bitchy business competitor might appear. A failing toy store in need of salvation. Lots of perfect teeth.

Sometimes characters are forced together because snow closes a road, a vehicle malfunctions, or a plane connection is missed. They are invariably stranded in a Small Town where Christmas festivities are well underway and it’s snowing.

Acceptable jobs for Heroine include: decorator, PR person, paralegal, florist, baker. Acceptable jobs for Hero: physical therapist (oh no! the violin virtuoso has injured her hand), car repairman, heir-apparent to his father’s business (doesn’t matter what), which he doesn’t want and must believe in himself to reject (by means of, what else? — the magic of Christmas). Acceptable jobs for Current-about-to-be-former Beau: lawyer, corporate consultant, heir-apparent to father’s business (which he desperately wants and is prepared to be ruthless to obtain).

There’s a whole sub-genre of Hallmark Christmas movies featuring royalty. For some reason, I don’t watch those.

Predictable, cloying, poorly scripted, filled with nostalgic Christmas objects and over-the-top Christian lessons on generosity, family, the power of believing, and true love, these shows are the perfect balm during this season (years) of excruciating politics.

If you can make it through an entire Hallmark movie without groaning, spitting, pausing to go for a run, or throwing things at the TV, let me know.

*  *  *

*See Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s recent Medium article, The Feminist Hallmark Movie, which begins:

“Hallmark movies are not feminist, except in that vague nonsensical way in which anything with a woman in it is somehow feminist. The scripts trade in every trope of unexamined whiteness, class warfare, gender conformity and patriarchal family norms. I watch them because there is no subtext and no surprises. There are only three things that turn off my critical survival lens and Hallmark movies are one of the three. I suspect that is because I do not need a single new skill to anticipate them. That’s because: The monster in Hallmark movies is exactly the same monster in my actual life — whiteness. They are comforting in that way.”

Reading her article confirmed my view that the Black characters are really white characters. Also, from MacMillan Cottom I learned that Hallmark movies feature an usually high number of women writers, producers, and directors and additionally, that the sets are very family friendly, making them popular among working mom actresses.