South of the Mason-Dixon

South of the Mason-Dixon  (A Little While Back)

Even as a bare-legged
little girl with just wisps
of flaxen hair,
I knew that there was a difference
in the house where Miss Daisy, who smelled so sweet,
went nights;
even if we had not driven her home,
her owning
no automobile–that it was not–would not have been–
brick and mortar-lawned,
but clapboard, slab-boarded, a clean-
swept porch standing over a dirt-swept yard, centered
by a door that looked flat black
with just the screen closed–so hot
down there then–
no light on inside that I could see,
not from the front seat, Miss Daisy getting out
from the back–
maybe because of the bugs–

Even as a very little child,
of the flaxen-haired
variety, strands wispy as wilted
petals, I knew enough
to be surprised, almost disbelieving,
when we ran into Miss Daisy
at some store some night,
me running up to her–how
was she there–how
would she get
home–her siding
my cheek, palm the color
of ham, hand dark
as a date, smelling still
as sweet–

It must have been I think
the old Five and Ten, not
one of the new suburban stores,
blinking with white shine, yards of glass,
florescence, refrigeration.

Still, me, not ten, not
even five,
knew enough
to be surprised,
almost disbelieving,


A poem of sorts for Grace’s prompt on With Real Toads about the wonderful Nigerian poet, Wole Soyinka.  Mine is inspired by his poem Telephone Conversation.  (As a note, I am pretty sure that I was in the back seat and Miss Daisy in front in actual fact, knowing my parents.)

P.S. – I must confess to never seeing the movie Driving Miss Daisy–I realize people will think it’s a reference to that–not meant to be!  Oh well!


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26 Comments on “South of the Mason-Dixon”

  1. Jim Says:

    Was this hard to write? It was somewhat hard to read Soyinka’s work after I figured, not too hard he was rather blunt, what was going on. I grew up on a farm in Nebraska and was completely insulated from racial differences. We did read “Little Bl*ck Sambo” in school. I think it was a classic back then. I keep my copy with my Shirley Temple scrap book. If I can find one then I find the other.

    Nice write, k. I felt for the young lady.
    I do have a similar tale I’ll save for another day.

  2. What a story, those memories when we were really small, where we understood, yet didn’t understand at all, and then much later when we did understand we stitch thus together.

  3. Brendan Says:

    The Solyinka poem you lifted off from is very different from the ones Grace quoted at Real Toads — contemporary, perhaps? If so, the stain is worse .. Anyway, great ingress here into an alien cultural reality from a child’s perspective; hatred and bigotry are absorbed over time, to a child the differences have no emotional content. Just a damaged sense of wonder, perhaps … “worried,” as you say. “Palm the color of ham” is a childlike dipper of that wonder, made me so remember our West African maid Eldora back in the ’60s, her surprising, exotic variations from our bland whiteness.

  4. Grace Says:

    Some of his poems hinted with social issues, such as discrimination ~ I can’t imagine that time how people lived, one with privileges, one with not based on color and race ~ I appreciate the child’s view of the world, such sweetness and innocence ~ Thanks K for linking up with Sunday’s Challenge and wishing you happy week ~

  5. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    It is memories such as this one you have shared, which give rise to major works of art. This shines like a mural – an historical monument – an award winning play.

  6. You paint the era well and I like the POV you bring with the young flaxen haired girl. Vivid and emotive work, Karen.

  7. hedgewitch Says:

    If someone were of a mind to, this would make a wonderful example of how a poem is different than a short story, even though it certainly tells a story–the *way* it tells it is through all kinds of emotional and imagistic clues, without springboarding it off exchanges of dialogue or introductory scene-setting. It jumps straight into actions shadowed with the meaning of actions, and the point of view is focused, but also like looking through the keyhole of a very small eye. Anyway, wonderful poem, k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Joy. I am a bit unresolved about the end. I was thinking of saying something like being old enough “to know the difference-” but that could be interpreted in such weird ways, and I’m not sure it is true to the character in the poem anyway. That is a very interesting comment re story–as you know, narrative is certainly my natural bent–I am not so good at coming up with interesting plots! (Ha!) But maybe in a poem they don’t need to be! k.

      • hedgewitch Says:

        I think plot is secondary in poetry, and primary in prose(most prose, anyway.) That’s why i stick to poems. ;_) The ending does sort of just stop, and might reward some work, but it seems also to suit the ambivalence of the period, and of a child’s viewpoint, ie, children are often forced to just put things aside and stop trying to define them because they don’t yet have the data or tools to decode them.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Ha. Yes, that is my trouble with fiction certainly.

        I will think about the end at some point–I had a whole longer thing that I just cut. I will probably not return to it for some time, but maybe eventually. k.

        On Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 10:48 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  8. Teresa Says:

    I haven’t seen the movie either, but this is a great poem. I love the rhythm you’ve created.

  9. Mama Zen Says:

    I love the way this tells a complete story without coming right out with it. Gorgeous work.

  10. humbird Says:

    What a retrospective story…in one poem….very evocative for me…as differences – always with us: if not visible, then – inner ones, untold…

  11. Susan Says:

    You need not worry about anyone thinking you reference “Driving Miss Daisy” where the wealthy white woman had a black driver kind enough to care for her. Your poem actually made me gasp at its honesty. Having been a whispy tow-headed white child myself amazed at the colors around me, I had to be shushed many times for saying what I was thinking. Thank you for this poem.

  12. You’ve caught the sense of a child observing what goes on around her, the look of things, the differences in people, without understanding the import of the differences. I was north of that line but remember that noticing. I love your details in this.

  13. brian miller Says:

    worried….great closure on this…
    i knew the difference mostly for the church i grew up in…
    i remember the day the black man walked in…
    and how everyone reacted…i was young but that day
    still sits in my mind…

  14. I was much like Jim, insulated though I grew up in Tn. When the Civil Rights movement began in the 60’s I was astounded. I never knew – how could I not know? What a shameful history we have.

  15. This poem brings up such memories for me. I had my own moments of asking why…why certain kids always sat in the back of the bus..I got pinched and told to be quiet every day for the rest of the school year from that one question.

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