"My Grandmother Writes a Letter to Her Cousin, 1935" by Joyce Compton Brown
Updated: Feb 28
“And if we say
An art is lost when it no longer knows
How to teach a sorrow to speak, come, see
The way we lost it: stacking letters in the attic…”
“Moly I no they is a blacke cloud ovr you
but I hope it will pass away soon but I no
it is one ov the hardest tryels ever oney one
had to pass one we heft to looke to hier power
to help us pass them by”
That hard swept yard
was where she’d learned.
Her mother took the Bible
in her hand, passed it round
for them to share, made them
sound the words, The Lord
is my shepherd, I shall not want.
The heavens declare the glory...
Those Presbyterian psalms
they’d sing in church gave
her heart’s ease and taught
her letters. She’d learned
enough to change the letters
into sounds, but the words
her mother stick-scratched
in the dirt blew away too
quick, smeared by running
babies, erased by her father’s
footsteps, bidding her to come
to the field and hoe the corn.
Joyce Compton Brown taught English at Gardner-Webb University and studied Appalachian culture, literature, and writing at Berea College and Hindman Settlement School. A Pushcart nominee, she has published poetry in a number of journals. Her chapbooks are Bequest (Finishing Line), Singing with Jarred Edges (Main Street Rag), and Standing on the Outcrop (Redhawk Press). She spends time writing and drawing, playing a little banjo, and observing backyard critters and plants.