Features / Poetry

Mississippi: An Excerpt

The work that follows is from Mississippi, an ongoing collaborative project by Ann Fisher-Wirth (poems) and Maude Schuyler Clay (photographs).


        These August afternoons even the candles
melt 	dear God 	I shape them again with my hands 	
              stay there
but the wax just sweats and oozes 
       there on the mantel 
                     next to mama’s painting 
       Sometimes I lie on the floor’s wide planks
too tired        too listless to move 
               as all day the sun 
swims from right to left across the window
      Once when she was dying
mama saw a dog 	  or thought she saw a dog
           beneath the pecan trees in the rain 
                       it turned toward her she said	
     and then it disappeared
		              mostly she slipped 
in and out  in and out	 and deeper

Maude Schuyler Clay
Had me a dog once		   deep chest
	    brindle coat	   by the looks of it a fine
strong dog  but the damn dog wouldn’t hunt

would just stand there looking at me

and I don’t need to be feeding 
no dog that won’t hunt 	    you know what I mean?

cute when they come off the mamma
      but they got to have that inclination	

give em a season    it don’t work out	leave em behind
	      you know what I mean?
Maude Schuyler Clay

—And the five o’clock sun
     on the  glass-front bookcase	
             where once I crouched to read my father’s Tennyson 
            I hope to see my Pilot face to face
                   when I have crost the bar
            mother napping	       daddy not home yet
     just such a light as today
           (but 	  Tennyson said		
                 in the dark I have not seen him)
           now they are gone 
		        mother    daddy    my sister Virginia	
                            * * *
      Why do I save their things
		    damask napkins 
                              I was hemming 
           for Virginia	
                        mother’s majolica plate 
      now piled with fruit 	
the curved chairs   the gleaming table
Maude Schuyler Clay

Once we drove to the lake
		   lay on his Chevy
to look at the stars
	       funny thing was		no stars

but I could feel his heart
	and hear the peepers singing

eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee

	hours and hours	   we lay there
he covered me with his coat
		   when I got cold

				* * *

once I think I dozed   	   not dozed  
                      something stranger than dozed 
	opened my eyes again

	      peepers still singing 	 his heart still thumping
clouds whipped around
				   tearing holes in the sky

       and shining through
		     was the moon

Bloom Post End

Ann Fisher-Wirth has published four books of poems—Dream CabinetCarta Marina, Blue Window, and Five Terraces. She also coedited The Ecopoetry Anthology and has published the chapbooks Slide Shows, Walking Wu-Wei’s Scroll, and The Trinket Poems. Her poems have received numerous awards, including a Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, the Rita Dove Poetry Award, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award, two Mississippi Arts Commission fellowships, and 13 Pushcart nominations including a Special Mention. She teaches at the University of Mississippi, where she also directs the minor in Environmental Studies, and teaches yoga.

Maude Schuyler Clay attended the University of Mississippi and the Memphis Academy of Arts, and after graduating she assisted the photographer William Eggleston. She worked as a photography editor and photographer for Esquire, Fortune, Vanity Fair, and other publications. She returned to Mississippi in 1987 and received the Mississippi Arts and Letters award for photography in 1988 and in 1992, and the Mississippi Art Commission’s Individual Artist Grant in 1998. The University Press of Mississippi published her widely recognized monograph DELTA LAND in 1999, which received the Mississippi Arts and Letters Award. Her work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The National Museum for Women in the Arts, among others.

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