Poetry Reading in a Room Hung with Bayard Wootten Photographs from Depression-Era
North and South Carolina
by Michael McFee
The poet reads his measured words to us
and also to Doc Hoppas of Penland,
who grins and lifts his fiddle to his chin,
leaning back in a canebottom chair.
He could set these lines to music.
The poet reads a poem about childhood
to the woman who remembers being a girl
and her girls, who dream of being women.
Their faces yearn toward the distant light
with identical evasive features and vast eyes.
The poet reads a poem about art
and Ben Owen listens, big head down,
big hands glazed with water and light,
pulling up spinning clay on the wheel.
Somebody will use this pot he’s making.
The poet reads a poem about food
but the hungry fisherman mending nets
never lifts his head, his face hat-shadowed,
his fingers shining like minnows in the sun.
The heavy weave has put both feet to sleep.
The poet reads a poem about work
and the family of four tobacco farmers
pauses among the thick chest-high leaves.
They share cool water from a mason jar,
their sticky hands clear through the glass.
The poet reads a poem about race
to the black woman with an empty plate,
a cat sniffing her patched skirt and apron.
She stares straight ahead, not even trying
to hide the holes in her safety-pinned sweater.
The poet reads a poem about fate
but the three spinster sisters in solid black
keep carding and spinning: they never stop
for anyone or anything at any time.
Their wheel in silhouette is a dark blur.
The poet reads a poem about poetry
to Zack McHone and his stack of books.
His shirt is dirty, his bootsoles are worn,
his hands are rough from a lifetime of work,
but they’re clean as the precious pages
of the open volume shining on his lap,
and he may be old and alone, but he can still
hold a book and read it by the firelight
as well as anybody gathered in this room,
the bright language filling his head and ours
as the poet finishes reading his measured words.
Earthly (Poetry Series)
Carnegie Mellon, January 2001