1974 Pic and Poem

photo © 1974 Beck Wilson

I received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1974 to begin the first poet-in-the-schools program for the state of Alabama. I left Florida State University and headed north to Birmingham-Southern College to begin my two-year residency at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. On my drive up I passed through the wiregrass region of the state and saw a group of day laborers with their machetes raised high in the air, the sun setting behind them. I stopped the car and took notes. My notes became “The Alabama Wiregrassers” that appeared in the September, 1974 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Little did I know my two-year residency would turn into a life-long love affair with sweet home Alabama.

The Alabama Wiregrassers

Dry-rooted in penny coated clay,
the wiregrassers come
suntan tamed in drawl
through the mire faster.
Machetes high-aimed for home,
they carry the clues of day
across their open, flying clothes.
Blade for blade,
steel for grass,
they flog the wire
with a hungry denim run.
Black shin hair stares
boar-bristled red out
from rips of hinged-tight jeans.
Tobacco spittin’ voices
seep coarse through gapped teeth
like hot wax from upside-down brown candles.
An evening shadow sinks itself
in the open field,
closing it for night.
The copper cold dust
from spun home trucks
relaxes into dew
and paints itself across the wiregrass
that sleeps in rust
beneath a hush of moon.

© Charles Ghigna, Harper's Magazine, Sept., 1974

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