Red String

By Minnie Bruce Pratt b. 1946 Minnie Bruce Pratt
       At first she thought the lump in the road
       was clay thrown up by a trucker’s wheel.
       Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers:

Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring
at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.
Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed
their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.

It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed
and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,
creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.

       Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed
       as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded
       themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.
       Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power
       to split the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless
       horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,
       saying: We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!

       Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice
       or limp or mended boots but said nothing, allowed the marchers
       to pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other
       lives down ravines, to save their skins another night from
       the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,
       who wait by the grave for the body’s return to the earth.
       Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums.
       Watched a man’s face flicker in the purple-black leaves.
       Then they burned the tree.

                                                Smoke from their fires
still lay over the land where Beatrice traveled.

Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,
voices from the place where some voices never stop:

       They took my boy down by Sucarnochee Creek.
       He said, “Gentlemen, what have I done?”
       They says, “Never mind what you have done.
       We just want your damned heart.” After they
       killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out
       by him all night until the neighbors came
       in the morning. I was standing there when
       they killed him, down by Sucarnochee Creek.

             I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting
             scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks
             on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed
             where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me
             out into the field so that the blood strung across
             the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,
             in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went
             back into my house and ate the food on the stove.
             They have drove me from my home. It is over
             by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.

       I had informed of persons whom I saw
       dressing in Ku Klux disguise;
       had named the parties. At the time
       I was divorced from Dr. Randall
       and had a school near Fredonia.
       About one month before the election
       some young men about the county
       came in the nighttime; they said
       I was not a decent woman; also
       I was teaching radical politics.
       They whipped me with hickory withes.
       The gashes cut through my thin dress,
       through the abdominal wall.
       I was thrown into a ravine
       in a helpless condition. The school
       closed after my death.

From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew
toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening
while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:

       Child, what have you been up to while we
       were trying to keep body and soul together?

       But never mind that now. Here’s what you must do:

       Tie a red flannel string around your waist.
       Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember
       your past, and ours. Always remember who you are.
       Don’t let those men fool you about the ways of life
       even if blood must sign your name.

Minnie Bruce Pratt, “Red String” from The Dirt She Ate: New and Selected Poems (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Used with the permission of the author.

Source: The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003)

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Poet Minnie Bruce Pratt b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Minnie Bruce  Pratt


Minnie Bruce Pratt is recognized as an eminent poet in the United States. In addition to receiving acclaim for her verse, Pratt is acknowledged as an essayist, activist, lesbian-feminist, and educator. By chronicling her existence in poetry and prose, Pratt has explored themes reflecting the particularities of her life. She has surveyed her Southern, middle-class upbringing, her ten-year marriage and strained divorce, her battle . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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