What’s So Different About the South
Roberta Haas George
No one up North or out West understands the South, and maybe being born in Bisbee, Arizona, and spending half of my 17 years of life out there, kind of makes and keeps me an outsider. It’s written that Robert Frost spent the first 12 years of his life in California, until his family moved to the northern part of the country, New England, and that he kept somewhere in his secret heart the cold eye of the outsider, the poet. They say it’s why he was able to write so well about that area.
Maybe it’s the heat, or the wet, the humidity,
the dog days of summer from March till November,
the glare through the windows, making
cars so hot, you need aluminum shields over
dashboards and wear sun glasses, even inside.
Maybe it’s the grits, so plain and so gritty,
even with cheese and butter and more salt,
than is good for you. And no one understands,
even us, our love of grits with eggs, and even with shrimp.
And, to save your soul, you can’t buy grits up North
or out West in Arizona.
Maybe it’s the drawl, the stretched-out speech,
the slow considering of what’s passing through minds
before it comes out with a twist or a twang so even
someone from Milledgeville, like Flannery, doesn’t understand
someone from Savannah, or Shelby Foote, who spoke
with wet pebbles in his mouth.
Maybe it’s our women, so seductive with those sharp words,
that intonation, their skin so satin soft and blemish free,
no matter the shade from dark to light, men can’t let go.
Their summer, crepe-myrtle dresses flaring
just at the knees, that flirtatious, elusive Scarlett quality
that never leaves and gives us more babies, who we adore,
till the end of time.
Maybe it’s our writers, who create a whole category
starting with Poe, called Southern Gothic. Our stories,
our poems, our memoirs win more awards and accolades
than you’d expect from States listed near the bottom
in poverty and education. Alabama says, “Thank God,
for Mississippi, which keeps us from being last.”
If you’ve never been in the South, you don’t know about the crepe myrtle shrubs and trees. They have the most beautiful colors: white, hot pink, pale pink, fuchsia, purple, and red. Wish every one could see them. Remember A. E. Houseman’s poem about 70 years being little room/to see the cherry hung with bloom? Well that’s how I feel about the crepe myrtles here in Valdosta.
Crazy Here in the South
The crepe myrtles here in the South drive you crazy.
The purple-red color, fuchsia—that you can’t spell—
knocks on your eyes, shouting beauty. The pale lavender
trees take your breath, and the hot pink pods hang on the
ends of branches and in your mind.