Evie Shockley

Text

 

studies in antebellum literature, ch. 5
(or, topsy-turvy)

 

19th-century novels paint
quite the chromatic picture

of america—take the white
whale, say, or the scarlet

letter—but they aren’t
all tarred with the same

brush. for comic contrast
some give us black humor:

national relief projected
onto one dark little head,

in turn projecting, in all
directions, a local choler.

# # #

antebellum lit still tinges
tongues with shady tints.

our language is loaded,
packing heat, a weapon

concealed only, it seems,
from the blissful. who’d

say x used to be a small
college town, but then ten

years ago it just grew like
topsy? i’d say it grew like

kudzu, maybe. or like
wildfire. not like topsy.*

* things that just grew
like topsy: the middle

passage death toll.
the black prison

population. the crop
of negro spirituals. like

crazy. like a weed. like
a motherless child.