The Girl Who Read the Land

By Mary Carroll-Hackett

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lived in a little trailer, not a vine-covered cottage as the story might have gone, but a single-wide with water-stains and thrift store furniture on a red dirt road in Carolina. She shoved baby girl hands, fat and dimpled, against the roll-out windows, and ate tomato soup from a can with her daddy, and took violet walks with her mama, running through the cemetery at the Primitive Baptist, calling the names of the dead, carved into crooked gray stones, names and names and names that she wasn’t old enough to read yet, that she shouldn’t have known. Tell me what you see, baby, her mama would say, her mama all pretty and fine-boned with little doll-feet who taught the girl to walk barefoot and dance the jitterbug and walk between rows of cotton and tobacco beans and, who gave the little girl crackers and juice in salad dressing cruets for saying Mass in a kitchen chair, words in Latin in her little girl mouth wrapped in her Southern tongue as if they’d always been there, while her mama, sitting at the tiny trailer table, with her coffee cup and glasses, said soft in the after-dinner air, Tell me what you hear, baby. What she saw and what she heard were people made of light, shiny as the Casper cartoons she watched and giggled at over Cheerios with her brother, but who weren’t in the tv, but in the corner, and sitting on the scratchy settee, and out in the sand pile her mama had made by hauling sand in trashbags from the lake, and in church on their knees when her uncle the priest said Mass on Sunday, and who weren’t always white, sometimes gold and sometimes purple, and sometimes every color all at once like the prisms her daddy had brought her as a present, and hung in the window, saying Look at all you can see, baby. What she could see rose from the land, like heat waves, transparencies, movies, just for her. Her mama said, What the land remembers, that’s what you see, baby. So the transparencies were memories: dark-skinned dancers with their long-lidded eyes, the men’s chests streaked with red and yellow paint, the women’s hair heavy like silk falling over their shoulders, mamas clutching their babies, warriors with tears and blood on their faces, pretty brown children with kinky hair, black women their skin slick and shining and greasy with field heat, little white girls in bonnets and aprons and starving in lost places, feet blue and bleeding, in the Croatan woods on the way to the beach, bearded white men lost too, but later in blue and in gray, torn and ragged and dirty, walking, walking, marching, on the same road the same way no matter how many times the girl looked down and then back, day after day. When she got older, she closed her eyes, to the pictures, the sounds, rested her head against the nubby seat of the station wagon. When she got older, she called it the loop, the seeing, the call, and didn’t question at all why sometimes she would just suddenly cry in a new place, the ground breaking like hearts beneath her feet, and time dissolving like rain, filled with face after face, lined with pain and wanting. She opened her eyes, and gave them all she had to answer the centuries and centuries of longing, looking directly into their hurt, spirits so broken and tender, and again and again and again saying,–I see you, baby, I see you, and I will remember.

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Mary Carroll-Hackett earned an MA from East Carolina University and an MFA from Bennington College and is the author of four books: The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, and most recently, The Night I Heard Everything, from FutureCycle Press. Another chapbook, Trailer Park Oracle, is due out in November 2015 from Kelsay Books. She teaches at Longwood University, and on the low-residency MFA faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan. Mary is currently at work on a memoir.

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