It's the ragged source of memory, a tarpaper-shingled bungalow whose floors tilt toward the porch, whose back yard ends abruptly in a weedy ravine. Nothing special: a chain of three bedrooms and a long side porch turned parlor where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked every evening over the news, a long sunny kitchen where Annie, his wife, measured cornmeal, dreaming through the window across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill where she had borne their spirited, high-yellow brood. In the middle bedroom's hard, high antique double bed, the ghost of Aunt Jane, the laundress who bought the house in 1872, though I call with all my voices, does not appear. Nor does Pomp's ghost, with whom one of my cousins believes she once had a long and intimate unspoken midnight talk. He told her, though they'd never met, that he loved her; promised her raw widowhood would heal without leaving a scar. The conveniences in an enclosed corner of the slant-floored back side porch were the first indoor plumbing in town. Aunt Jane put them in, incurring the wrath of the woman who lived in the big house next door. Aunt Jane left the house to Annie, whose mother she had known as a slave on the plantation, so Annie and Pomp could move their children into town, down off Shelby Hill. My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters watched their faces change slowly in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door into teachers' faces, golden with respect. Here Geneva, the randy sister, damned their colleges, daubing her quicksilver breasts with gifts of perfume. As much as love, as much as a visit to the grave of a known ancestor, the homeplace moves me not to silence but the righteous, praise Jesus song: Oh, catfish and turnip greens, hot-water cornbread and grits. Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles; generations lost to be found, to be found.
Marilyn Nelson - 1946-
Epiphany Davis, 1825
I set up my cash box and my bones and cards on Broadway, most days, offering what I see of what’s to come. For a donation, words fall from my mouth, surprising even me. Uncle Epiphany doesn’t forecast death or illness worse than gout or a broken bone. The sailors stop. They listen with caught breath as I tell them some girl’s heart is still theirs alone. (… or not. Young love is such a butterfly.) Girls come, arms linked, giggling behind their fans. The sad come. Uncle Epiphany does not lie. I close shop, and come back up here to my land. It’s a new world up here, of beggar millionaires: neighbors who know how we all scrimped and saved to own this stony swamp with its fetid air, to claim the dream for dreamers yet enslaved. I’m Epiphany Davis. I am a conjure-man. I see glimpses. Glass towers … A horseless vehicle … An American President who is half African … Until you pay me, that’s all I’m going to tell.