I’m country but sophisticated. I’m particular and concrete, but I’m probing another plane. . . . There are many times when I want to hammer the head. Other times I want to sleep on the hammer.
– C. D. Wright
Along with many, many other towns in the Delta, especially in the year immediately following Martin Luther King’s death, those towns began to explode, one by one. And this town was no exception. My friend V. was a white woman who got involved in all of these activities and ended up being arrested. Her car was burned in the police parking lot. Her husband denounced her, divorced her, took custody of the children.
Once V. got involved, she became a pariah in the town. There was a mass arrest of black students. They had gone — left the grounds of the all-black high school, gone to the all-white high school, linked arms and sang “like a tree planted by the water,” one of the standards of the civil rights movement.
The kids were put in the swimming pool because they had no room for that many people in the town jail and they didn’t know where to put them.
An affecting element of this book is the way its elegiac impulses accord with, even as they chafe against, the documentary impulses. Elegies are often accounts of searching for, and discovering, the ancient consolations, among them poetry. And so we have, alongside Wright’s litanies of children born, grape salads made, bridge games played, cigarettes smoked, and bourbon imbibed, a competing order of symbol and convention, which makes it possible for subjects otherwise scrupulously real to seem oddly mythic.