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"My Grandmother Writes a Letter to Her Cousin, 1935" by Joyce Compton Brown

Updated: Feb 28, 2022



“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…”

Evan Boland


“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”

Louisa Morrison


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.


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