Courage is being scared to death . . . and riding into town anyway. John Wayne
You’ll die if you quit. My conscience
It’s like making love, isn’t it? This thing I’m doing. Breathing, energy sliding down from your neck to your fingertips, dew sweat on the pads of your fingers as they type thump, thump, thump. That awkward moment when the clothes hit the floor, words lanky and new across white space, the curves of thought and the sinew of the reach–from here, so grassy and lemon bright, to there, so mysterious and moss. Dark. Risk. Yup. It’s like that. And I can’t quit you, reader.
Don’t y’all tell anybody where my freckle hides. I’ve heard your thump, and I reckon I’ve made my decision. I need that wooden spoon for cooking. Y’all hungry?
Well, then. Let’s eat.
Souls smell like salt, don’t they? Yes, you do so know what I mean. Salt: sweat drying on country-fried skin by a backwoods creek, warm. Slightly sugary. Muscadine flesh under August sun. Souls, when they are homegrown, nice and slow, smell like that.. Souls sound like cicada, building slow by the barbecue fire, rising in a crescendo so ancient our words are lost in the lexicon of pine trees and wild, sweet grass. Yup. They sound just like that. Reverberating against the earth, teasing the stars: find me, find me. Souls feel like peaches from Georgia. Taut, musky, ripe with juice, breaking and tearing with the scrape of a knife–holding, communing fearful, fearless against the rough rub of a touch. But if you hover over its plane, just close enough for its minuscule hairs to vibrate as if reaching for your touch? Ah. Souls.
And then: you have Southern Witches. Mmmmm.
Cherokee, Creek, Muskogee. Irish, Scottish, mountain, river, hillbilly stomping’ boondock witches. Unapologetic in their bones, ethical by nature, these children of the red-clay Earth know each other by smell, sound and feel. We grow in an organic, slow arch. Unpolluted by highfalutin’ hyperbole or academic rhetoric, others smell us, as well. Something about us. What. Is. That. Smell? Why. Don’t you know? That’s the a stew of catfish and mugwort. Redtail hawks and cauldrons we call cast iron skillets. We are wild; we are anything but nomadic. Most of us have no choice but to tap a toe at the jaunt of a hand-crafted fiddle even as our hopes and dreams spin, molasses slow and tight, above our noggins in the spiderwebs of our Southern sky. Our spit can carve a hard freeze on mosquitos and their belligerent, too heavy eggs. Our evil eye (one raised high, one so low the moon has flirted with your ass) can wrangle the truth out of a five-year-old with guilt in his pocket or a salesman with a cross on his shirt. And, laws, our roux–melted down in bacon fat or butter–can bless a croupy baby, your plate, or the preacher. And, we know down here in the Deep South, the latter is in the most need.
But then, there’s our vengeance.
Nothing. Nothing is worse than a Southern witch, thumping all riled. You see, the kind I hanker to (and am drawing out here) grew up nice and slow in the Bible Belt, and while we understand patience, forgiveness, staving against hunger and pain and the importance of holding hands, we also were reared on Southern justice. A body’s word means everything down here: it’s legend, and extension of both yor’ own bones and those of yor’ ancestors, thump. Thump. Break that like so many brown eggs over a flame and . . . well, we sizzle that in grease and serve it with buttermilk biscuits. And call it “good.” Our womenfolk are still sacred down here. Momma. Grandma. Sissy. Grandgirl. My Wife. Laws, even when they do go a little hog wild, our womenfolk are still sacred. There she blows! Damn, ain’t she fine? Fire women. Beloved Women. Medicine women to your secret shame, your fears that whisper around ears and that gnaw in your gut until yor’ manly heart secretly swells, along with yor’ belly, as we rock you in our arms and rock yor’ tongue in sausage gravy, coffee and sugar. Lovin’ is built into the sinew and soft of the Southern Witch. Shhhh. Baby. Shhhh. You my fine, noble Old Man. Stand. And then . . . our Southern Man Witch. Ah, sookie, sookie now. Ever seen what our clay builds when it builds a Magic Man? We like ours with a little meat on ’em, a little heart in ’em, and a whole lotta’ “oh, hell new!” backin’ ’em up. These men carve deep into the dirt, haul more than shit and stop to kiss their babies before pushing harder towards sunset and a broken back–and nary miss a beat. Amen. Ah, now. But that ain’t all. These fine sons of the Earth light our fires, kneel at the smell of a sacred wind and could make a pontoon boat a floating alter to a summer moon. (And still pee off of it, holding a beer in one, himself in the other. Perfect balance.) Mmm. Hmm.
And then? There’s our babies. Y’all, someone grab ahold of a rail and a Triscuit. Dirt Pagan babies. Ready?
These are the echoes of everything holy, Southern and godsmack of honeysuckle and impossible possibilities. They run like elk, no fear, no shame. Can’t scrub the rust of the ground they stomp off those heels. These babies naturally sling fingers to the sky, smell out sweet water and smell trouble before the hound barks good and proper. Ah. Magic Southern Chillun. You can spot them, you know. They rarely dance on a gold road, these babies are raised on cornbread, nurtured on mother’s milk and sustained by rapturous adoration of their grand-elders. These babies will behead a catfish without blinking, grub their fingers deep into swamp guts for a crawfish and variously understand that love never lies, lies never love and sweet tea is the nectar of a baby priest. Y’all should see them fly wild and half-naked under the blare of fireworks, make a dog twice their size kneel at their tattered feet and fall under the comfort of a well-earned, morphine-esk sleep on the lawn chairs of our lives. They smell of cotton candy, guilt and innocence, wet puppy and charged molecules. If you haven’t been witness to our legacy in their natural habitat, you ain’t seen nothing yet. And we’re fine with that.
And then? Oh, y’all. And then: there’s our land.
Oh, hells yeah. Our land. Hot, semi-tropic, fertile, adolescent rebellious in its refusal to cave completely to climate change and the government. We buy it right the Sam Hill up. The more of this magic dust, the better–I hear tell they ain’t making any more. Birthright, river-veined, pine-lined, deer-studded thick. Dark. Rich. Magic mud. Get a little of it on our tires on weekends, bury our best dogs in it alongside our tears as it beats and throbs and thrusts okra, tomatoes and dandelions at our feet until we holler UNCLE. Our land is our favorite auntie, our ancestor in red and brown, the beat in our workboots and the paw-drum of our wild rabbits. It is our beginning, our mentor and our blessed ending. And . . . it is, for the Southern Witch, the cornmeal to the milk of our blood, rising thick and mealy in the heat of our magic, sinking slow and thirsty to the butter of our release. We. Are. Our. Land.
Anything else? Blasphemy. Are yor’ feet transplants here on my Great-Great-Great Grandmother’s resting place? Tread very, very carefully. Pay attention: It’s all sacred burial ground. And you think revving us up livin’ Southern Witches is nerve racking . . .
Well. Bless Yor’ Heart.
We are not better than Western Witches, or Northern . . . or anything from Feng Shui to Asatru . . . naw, that ain’t the point or the stitch in our shawl. The point is simply: We are significant, on our own. Haunted. Native. Boondock. Witches.
We are blessed, too. We are blessed in blood, molasses, secrets and sweat.
This post is dedicated to the over twenty folks who sparked and lit up my ass when I though about laying down like a sorry, yeller dawg. Too tears in a bucket, fuck it. Let’s dance. Yeehawwwww!!!