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"Though leaves are many, the root is one; Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun.." -- W.B.Yeats
Tulip, Ark.In Tulip there are no tulips and in this sad south no magnolia trees. Even way back the belles were big and countrified: no brocade or satin no small green velvet slippers no colored aunts and uncles; just pale blue eyes and red hands homespun and cheap cotton. The houses then were small and gray from long dry spells under a glittering polished sun and small they are now and yellow outside with dust by day and yellow inside by night with fly-specked naked bulbs. No wide shady verandas or fluted columns upholding classic porticoes no grand pianos brought up from New Orleans or floated down from St. Louis no broad acres with singing field hands. No, none of these ever or ever in this South in this bleached dismisser of romance. Almost there was glory once. The old men kick the shavings under lacy-whittled benches and spit and talk of ifs and whens. If Tulip had got two more votes she would have beat Little Rock and where we sit might be the hollow underneath a marble dome. This might be a big hotel or streetcar tracks or rich-men's stores. By the lack of just two votes the dry bulb died that might have bloomed. The people died. The French schoolteacher moved away. The old men sadly shake their heads and bite fresh chews from strong brown twists. The dust raised by a dusty car stains the bright hard air. In Tulip there are no tulips and in this sad South no magnolia trees.© Carl Selph, 1951 First published in Preview
Children Playing on SundayThe little boy beneath the blue-john sky Gives his still littler brother rushing rides Across the parking lot, his vehicle A double-decker supermarket cart. They neither speak nor shout, but dedicate Themselves to traveling through their asphalt realm; Only on Sundays is this black space theirs. Watching the boys at play, I try to think How I may turn this circumstance to verse, Remembering creeks where willow trees let down In March ribbons of willow green, and huts Of sticks and leaves where my brother and I Housed our imaginations all week long.© Carl Selph, 1951 First published in Descant
ButcheringThe barn doors are wide open to make room for the calf hanging chained by its hind legs to the pulley hay-wired to the overhead beam. I smell lespedeza and manure and goat. My uncle has ground the knife himself. It is exactly sharp enough. The calf's eyes have shown their whites from greed at the udder, in stiff-legged play, and now. My uncle cuts the throat just right and blood spurts into the dried pig-tracks. He is a hard-working man with five children and a crippled wife he loves. He is good at butchering goats and hogs and calves and makes the best hickory-smoked sausage you've ever tasted. He farms all summer, plowing behind two mules. When the cotton's sold and the weather's right, he kills the animals and peddles the meat from the bed of his pickup. He has no lack of customers; they know his quality. I watch him with real interest as he slits the paunch and neatly pulls and cuts out liver, lights, heart, and the gleaming guts. I am young enough to look clear-eyed at almost anything.© Carl Selph, 1999
Turning the CornerTurning the corner at the old hotel, I walk the gravel street. It's hot. Tadpoles dart in the weedy, green ditches, like black watermelon seeds with tails. Two privies back onto the alley. There's Mr. George and Miss Pearl's yellow frame house, the sun-burned pine brush-arbor the Holy Rollers built for their revival meeting -- the shouting, speaking in tongues: all still here, as they were: the white dust, the bell in mid-week suspense in the Baptist church steeple, Sis' Kate screened on her porch, rocking, keeping watch. I come to Mama's house, wire-fenced, long two-by-fours I used to wire-walk on nailed post to post, and stand, heart in my throat, at the iron gate. Will the front door open? Who will come out? It does. He's six-years old. Mother-of-pearl buttons hold his blue shorts to his white shirt. He's put his belt on by himself, as he's done for at least a year now. At the top step he waits. No smile. It's my move next. I think I can detect in his weak brown eyes--what? I hope I look friendly, kind. I wonder if I can bear it if he goes back in. The gate is open. I hold out my hand. He takes it, hesitates, and hugs my legs. Mother and Daddy, from the shady porch, regard us gently as we turn and wave.© Carl Selph, 1992 First published in the San Miguel Writer
ExodusMy exodus from the grass green days (when my ship sailed the puddles and never sank and the pines and the buttercups after rain were too technicolored to be real and my pony was a thundering steed that charged with the proudest and in my canyons led me to rustlers and came at my whistle and my bike was a roadster leaning at corners and humming around curves my private song and music came from my growing fingers and light from my lips and my eyes) Passed with no splitting of seas, few plagues, and no armies, When I wasn't paying attention.© Carl Selph, 1955 First published in The Colorado Quarterly
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