A story by Jesmyn Ward, the second of three excerpts from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing.
Because I wanted Michael’s mouth on me, because from the first moment I saw him walking across the grass to where I sat in the shadow of the school sign, he saw me. Saw past skin the color of unmilked coffee, eyes black, lips the color of plums, and saw me. Saw the walking wound I was, and came to be my balm.
Immigrants are active Southerners. They choose to live here, to raise families, to grow businesses. Despite unfavorable odds that may, in this new age of American isolation, temporarily thwart innovation, active Southerners are reinventing the region. In the process, as an already complicated region embraces new people, and cultural nuances accrete, much is gained. Especially for eaters.
Freshwater bivalves evolved by sending their larvae up rivers in the gills of spawning salmon. Now, like their ocean ancestors, they live out some of the most obscure lives on the planet, clasped in a darkness of their own creation, sometimes for up to a century or more. “Under a firmament of nacre,” wrote the French poet Francis Ponge about the oyster. A firmament, yes, because, like the sky, it is vast and ancient. Because, like the sky, you can get lost in it.
In many ways, I blame rock & roll for what happened. I discovered this unholy music in boyhood, when my Uncle Mike died an untimely death at age twenty-eight. My grandmother gave all his 8-tracks to me, music I’d never heard before: Rush, Bowie, Little Feat, Eat a Peach. The eighties pop dished out by FM radio was candied and glittering and great fun, sure, but this older music was dark and gas-powered, all fire and gravel.
Following John McPhee to Florida.
McPhee’s book about oranges in the age of concentrate production is not a screed against industrial food or agribusiness priorities. There’s no scolding chapter explaining which oranges to buy at the grocery store. For that matter, there’s no hand-holding “what will happen in this book” chapter or really even much in the way of plot or main character, aside from the regular presence of our reporter guide. In that way, it doesn’t much resemble the books published about food today.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue.
I was feeling alright. The highway was working its gritty, illusory magic. This is all yours, I thought: freedom, control, motion. I was also feeling the salve of a change of scenery: broken-up sidewalks for marsh grass, cramped narrow shotguns for fishing camps. Tangles of electrical and phone wires for the wide-open Gulf-reaching sky. But it didn’t take long, maybe a half hour in, before I was again ambushed by G’s death.
A Letter from the Editor, Summer 2017.
For the second year in a row, our summer issue contains a special section of Southern Journeys. In typical Oxford American fashion, these five journeys aren’t your average trip itineraries or travel guides, though we hope they’ll encourage hunger for exploration: physically, intellectually, even spiritually.