Let me rephrase that: all poetry is sensuality. At least I’m convinced that’s true when I re-read Sara Claytor’s Howling on Red Dirt Roads.
Sara’s poems take delight in slipping off their silk blouse and pointing their rosebud nipples at the moon. In a buttery drawl the poems say, “Damn the saturated fat,” and spoon up a steaming platter of cornbread and collards. They are magnolia perfume on a muggy afternoon. Salt and beachsand and waves at night. The stanzas are tactile, gustatory, aromatic – oh hell, let’s just say they drench the senses. Presence and immediacy – the characters rise up from the page and breathe. And oh my, we are there with them and we are red and we are howling.
You’ve experienced sensory memory – just a hint of the smell of your Grandmother’s talcum and there you are playing on the floor in her living room. [It’s synapses firing in the hippocampus and cingulate gyrus, but forget I said that.] Sara’s poetry is born in memory. Her memories become ours. The smell of July sun on pine needles, squeak of the porch swing, the sound of butter beans falling into a chipped enamel basin . . .
Blue Rocking Chair
She lost her leg,
wanted to return to her tin-roofed cabin
with the blue rocking chair on the porch.
Working daily in a cotton mill, Claudine
spent nights with her. I was in Zimbabwe,
a Peace Corps teacher,
when I received Claudine’s letter
detailing the 2-month-old news of Julia’s death.
Perhaps Julia rolled her wheelchair to the kitchen,
boiling water for coffee, loose sleeves brushed
against a heated stove coil.
By the time the fire department arrived –
the old wooden structure eaten by flames,
tin roof buckled and flattened,
blue rocking chair reduced to blistered sticks.
During the next year, I recovered,
feeling more black than white,
my skin & hair darkened by fierce African sun,
my heart involved with 15 black children
who called me ‘Mama Blanche,’ who learned
to speak English with a Southern accent,
celebrated my 23rd birthday singing Dixie.
In each face, I saw myself on a day
when I sat in the blue porch rocking chair
beside a tin bucket of pink petunias,
helping Julie shell butter beans,
smiling in the sun while she hummed hymns,
dropped the empty hulls
into a brown paper bag.
Sara Claytor, from Howling on Red Dirt Roads, Main Street Rag Editor’s Select Poetry Series, 2008
Sara featured on Katherine Stripling Byer’s blog
Sample poems at Main Street Rag
Sara’s web site