Donate! Support your community news.
Subscribe! News delivered to your inbox.

Intro to Somehow Kin: North Carolina, 1957: A Poem by Nora Shepard

by | Jul 25, 2022

 Voices, accents, cadences are some of the varieties of spoken language and like the Sirens’ call entice listening poets. Energies of sounds from person to person, from place to place, fold into the vagaries and timbre of emotions suited to the circumstances of an instant or a series of events. The poet may use rhythms or meter, the repetition of sounds (rhyme, slant-rhyme, alliteration and/or assonance) or breaks in the cadences or established sounds to amplify mood or action. This poem is intended as a series of beloved voices, all heard in the specific “ear” of a specific poet, (me) attempting to convey stories in language nuanced by time and place. “Trying on” the voices of the characters is an attempt to share their stories and a means to become closer to the speakers of the stories. Forgive me for what I am unable to convey and enjoy what I may have gotten right.

Somehow Kin: North Carolina  1957

Idella Leath : Richmond County

Oh, Sister shouldna pulled baby down
the street by her toe— every step her head
go bump bump
shoulda put baby in that wagon.
Kitten’s in there tied up in a bonnet
wrapped up in Celia’s dress. Coulda
pulled her red wagon right on over
loaded up baby with kitten and gone on.
Lemonade woulda been the same,
Miss Maude woulda waited.
But no, Sister bump bumped that baby
halfway down the street, and come
running back, screaming. Baby’s head
is busted and nothing to be done.

Viola Harris : Cleveland County

Don’t you touch them baby dolls
you got jam on them fat fingers
They in the little boxes,
dresses yellow, blue, green and pink
Which you choose, Sissy, which, Sally?
Play pretties, look-ats
don’t mess ’em all up.
Take ’em with you, careful
now. Let me wipe off them hands.

The boxes, carried, tenderly
one by one, to the cool air
under the magnolia. Two little girls
pull four little dolls, from ribbons and tissue,
pluck out the blue glass eyes, unravel
the braided hair. Smash
each china head. Bury them
one by one in the grey-white soil
right next to the dog their daddy shot.

Joe-Bill Boyd: Bladen County

They’ve got him in the bathroom, chased down,
banging the stalls like thunder boiling
down a gray tin roof—whole boulders of sound
ricochet off white-tile walls. Little Billy cowers
in the cubicle, swears he’s not peed his pants,
tears through taunts like running
through July corn— switched—slapped and stung.
Sound coils behind him. Down linoleum
corridors, door slam shut and out
onto the hot-sand playground.
Empty, still, blue-sky swelter,
the swings hang in a row,
vertical as the convicted.

Arlena Faye Weaver: Buncombe County

There ain’t no money to bury Eddy.
He’s on the slab. Nobody fetched him,
but I done the identifying.
Sheet pulled back—one look told all
that’s needed. They won’t give him up
’til we get the check. Can’t buy the casket
nor them roses his Mama wants.
One thousand dollars
to burn him—put him in a cardboard box
carry him on home. I can’t put him in the trunk.
You hold him up front wid you.

Put Eddy’s ashes in the attic,
didn’t tell
Junior ‘cause he wouldn’t sleep
in the room under. Took Eddy’s box “
to the UPS. They stuck it all over, stamps
and labels, trucked him to Tennessee.
They gonn’a lay him down in the corner
next to his daddy.

We’uns never gonna see that place.

 Lydia Amelia Harris: Henderson County

At church camp they told her
Swim. From here to there. One hundred yards: Swim.
She tugged at her new blue suit bunched
between her buttocks and climbed
down the cold-slime ladder to push off.
Chin up, skinny arms churning
over the knobs of her bicycling knees.
In the dark cavern of the boathouse
they pulled her from her sinking,
and banned her to the roped area for babies and
the girl with the crooked leg, the useless arm.
She waded in. Her shadow broke the sunlight,
a nimbus of rippling rays spread from her head.
Her trailing fingers worked the shallows
while she hummed her own tinny little prayer:
Please, mama, please –please mama, come get me.   

 A version of this poem appeared in the North Carolina Literary Review


Nora Hutton Shepard

Nora Hutton Shepard is a poet and alumna of N.C. State’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program, as well a graduate of the MFA Writer’s Program at Warren Wilson College. She taught poetry courses at N.C. State before relocating to Davidson in 2019 to be closer to her daughter’s family. Nora has quickly acclimated to life in Davidson and is a wonderful addition to our Community.

Support Your Community News