the museum of americana

a literary review

—Mother: and —Daughter: and Adeline and the Hum — Poetry by Rachel Nelson

—Mother:

     (Alabama, 1844, Moseley Estate)

A parent       Adeline had many mothers
to leave behind        some she cannot

remember    some she cannot stop
herself from trying to please. In stories,

Brer Rabbit escapes Tar Baby and the Briar Patch
with the help of his mother         imagine her soft paws

taking the tacky tar mark onto her own fur.
Each mother who is absent

(–See also, walked further
South in chains) can be thought of

no more than Adeline can take
a potato from the coals        and

hold it firmly in her hand. I imagine
she must have thought of them:      Did they

grow indistinct, the cluster of mothers       as one cloud
cannot be separated from another on a rainy day?

–See also, mother culture, used to make
yogurt and bread.

 

— Daughter:

     (Alabama, 1844, Moseley Estate)

   1. Of a mother. Of a country. A land can
                 raise a daughter.

—Prepare her for bonnets. Apron
pockets for herbs. Behind her back

the strings. Scents caught
in the cotton of her dress, the bite

and caramel of onion. Coffee
brewed for other people

to sip. —Under her breath,
songs grandfathers sang

while razing trees other slaves
would lash and lug as logs

righting ships meant to carry
daughters from the hip

of their fathers, from their arms.

 

   2. Of a country.

—Delivered
         after purchase.  To be soft

and useful
          as a good coat.
—Maybe each day

          something purple.      A sprig

of flowering sage

          behind her ear.

 

   3. Of a mother. (—See also, Adeline:

              I would not have been

left behind. That must have been

why she did not

hold close my hand.)

 

Adeline and the Hum

     (Alabama, 1844, Moseley Estate)

When Master Moseley walks into the kitchen
his clean shoes against the wooden floor

drive most other sounds away. Find Adeline
so close to her mother’s skirts, the slack bells

of their dresses knock together,
quietly rustle. Her apron damp, fingers

sometimes weighing the hem of Granny’s sleeve
as though she’s a little girl. She suspends

all manner of clamor
on the sharp hook of the quiet: the imagined

the absence of noise before
one of the China plates slides from a soapy hand,

disintegrates into white slices. —
When he leaves, Adeline can hear

Granny’s soft hum as she peels potatoes,
can hear in her memory

boots treading across the stable floor toward her
and the horse she rubs down

each afternoon gnashing hay
under great teeth, can hear the tumble

of logs stacked in Moseley’s bedroom
each morning. The hum

fills her hands in the warm water
with her own hands. In the hum

Adeline plans to find Squire later. Tell her brother
the one about Brer Rabbit growing

full on cool thick cream. Setting clean saucers
one inside another, she sees herself

hopping around him, fingers over her head
mimicking ears. Squire — his belly round

as a full sac of cotton, the rungs
of his ribs easy enough

for any small angel to climb —
will squeal — feet dancing on the ground.

~~~

 

Rachel Nelson (1)Rachel Nelson is a Cave Canem fellow and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Atlas Review, Little Patuxent Review, Muzzle Magazine, Smartish Pace, Radar Poetry, and elsewhere. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

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