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A MAGAZINOE F THE SOUTH* PROUDLY PUBLISHED FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ARKANSAS

OXFORD AMERICAN

MIRA ROSENTHAL, DIANE ROBERTS, LILLIAN SMITH, GWENDOLYN KNAP, MICHAEL SHEWMAKER, ASHER ELBEIN, AND THE ROAD TO TAMA - RE

A dispatch From radical florida By rachel monroe The book of the dead: Catherine venable moore On the hawk‘s nest tunnel disaster Fiction by george singleton


Image source from Oxford American.org

Cover page : © Radcliffe Bailey. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York “Miss Everything (Unsupressed Deliverance),” by Amy Sherald. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago “Woman with Flowers” (1972), by David Driskell. © David Driskell. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York “On Myth and Magic No.5: Eclipse” (2009), by Wendy Given. Courtesy of the artist “God” by Bo Bartlett “The Girl Inside” (2016), by Delta Martin, www.blackboxpressstudio.com


OXFORD AMERICAN


CONTENTS

POINTS SOUTH

FEATURES

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A church’s Acadian migration

Travels in Radical Florida Rachel Monroe

Lyndsie Bourgon

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Poke Salad

Stephanie Soileau

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Remembers Daddy’s good name Among the plumeria addicts

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The Frog of War

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Looks South toward Israel Andrew Paul

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The Safest Place in Kent ucky,a graphic essay by Kristen Radtke

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iViva la Huelga! Daniel Blue Tyx

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In the garden of refugees Andre Gallant

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Local Fare: The Harris Hegemony John T. Edge

THE BOOK OF THE DEAD

In Fayette County, West Virginia, Expanding the Document of Disaster Catherine Venable Moore

JakeJ.Smith 24

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COLUMBUS DAY George Singleton

Gwendolyn Knapp

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THE ROAD TO TAMA -RE

A Disappearance, a Con Man, and the Lingering Ruins of His Improvised Religion Asher Elbein

J. Drew Lanham

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MONKEYWRENCH

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MY DEAR MASTER LISZT Ben Stroud


POETRY 28

Swallow

Mira Rosenthal

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Dollar General Erika Meitner

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1973

David Kirby

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The Pastor

Michael Shewmaker

OMNIVORE 116 126

STAY AND RESIST

Learning from Lillian Smith Diane Roberts

MOON BALLS

Cooking with Chnis: Chris Offutt

ARTS BY Ben davis, amy sherald, andi schreiber, ashleigh coleman , karine laval, eliot dudik, Polixeni papapetrou, debor ah luster, heidi l. Kirkpatrick , bill aron, kristen radtke, annie donovan , Tammy mercure, aaron canipe, julie branaman, michelle a. M. Miller, maury gortemiller, Anderson scott, tom martin, lisa elmaleh , letitia huckaby, carrie mae weems, john baldessari


MON


OXFORD AMERICAN / FALL 2016

NKEYRENCH Travels in Radical Florida BY RACHEL MONROE The first day I showed up for the Earth First! rehearsal in Lake Worth, Florida, a small coastal town thirty-five miles north of Fort Lauderdale, I walked in late to find a dozen tattooed people pretending to be a machine. Tentatively at first and then with increasing enthusiasm, they pantomimed the pulling of levers and the pushing of buttons and other nonsensical but orderly tasks. “Okay, now let’s make a deep ecology machine,” she said. For a moment, no one moved. Then a slender woman in black boots stepped into the middle of the circle. She closed her eyes and began undulating to some internal rhythm, making soft swishing sounds with her

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FEATURES /THE ROAD TO TAMA-RE

On April 12, 2010, my friend and classmate Iasia Sweeting disappeared. The spring semester at DeKalb School of the Arts was drawing to a close, and as the last classes ended that day, a torrent of students poured down the white cinder-block halls, heading out to the idling school buses or to nearby fast-food places. Iasia stood against the wall, a short girl with serene brown eyes, hair braided with cowrie shells, and a face that swung between solemn and smiling. Her best friend leaned in, talking in a conspiratorial undertone. I passed them and exchanged a word or two with Iasia, a quick good-bye. She smiled. Then the crowd swallowed her up and swept me out the door. The arts magnet high school was small, around three hundred students packed into the two-hallway annex of another Atlanta high school, and everyone knew each other. Iasia was part of the 2012 class, a year younger than me, and we had the casual friendship that comes of sharing a few classes and an interest in writing. Her talent ran toward poetry, which she delivered with an easy flow honed by constant practice at open mics. People said bigger things were on the way

THE ROAD TO TAMA-RE By ASHER ELBEIN

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been as cheerful as we thought; that she and her mother had been fighting; that she had run away; that she had been kidnapped. The days stretched to weeks— April turned to May, the semester racing toward its end—and no answers came. Her friends tried desper-


An Enigmatic Ex-con, His Improvised Religion, and the Geogia Town That Watched It Fall


POINTS SOUTH /!VIVA LA HUELGA!

¡VIVA LA HUELGA! By DANIEL BLUE TYX

The fiftieth anniversary ceremony began with the singing of a corrido. As the guests of honor found their seats on the stage of the octagonal-roofed Kiosk on the first day of June, Daria Vera shuffled to the mic, gripping an official program with the lyrics on the back cover. The guitarist and accordionist struck up the first chord. Her deep, gravel-lined, distinctive contralto struggled to carry over the rumble of the cross-border freight trucks hemming us in on parallel one-way arteries of Highway 83 through downtown Rio Grande City, Texas. But then a high-pitched grito emanated from among the metal folding chairs lined up on the sidewalk, followed

La cárcel de Rio Grande es cárcel muy afamada. Encierran a los huelguistas por causa de sus ideales. Nos trajeron arrastrando pa’ cumplir con su deber Y nosotros protestando el derecho de comer.

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I met Daria some three months earlier at her small house in the La Puerta colonia on the outskirts of Rio Grande City. A few broken-windowed trailers neighbored tidy

photo, she found the lyrics to three corridos, including the one she would sing to inaugurate the anniversary celebration. In the midst of a hunger strike, jailed protesters wrote and sang new verses. At her kitchen table, Daria began singing be fore I could even inquire about the tune. “I’ve been practicing them everywhere I go,” she said after she’d finished, her fingers still grasping the curled corners of the black-andwhite photograph. “I’m the only one who hasn’t forgotten how they go. No one remembers.” It began as a wildcat strike. Eugene Nelson, an aspiring novelist and union volunteer, had traveled to Houston in April 1966 to work on a boycott of Schenley liquor products. He arrived to the news that Schenley was already nearing a contract, among the first of César Chávez’s improbable victories in the Delano Grape Strike. So Nelson traveled to Rio Grande City, at the invitation of a used-car dealer and a washateria owner dabbling in organizing themselves. Shortly after arriving, he ascended the back of a flatbed truck in the centrally located San Juan Plaza—long since demolished—and proclaimed, “You are sons of Zapata! You must be brave!” The farmworkers’ strike was soon under way, without Chávez’s blessing. A few doors down from union headquarters, Daria lived with her husband, Mario, in a two-room converted shed. Mario earned $30 a week at a service station, and she made 40 cents an hour picking cantaloupes in temperatures that sometimes hit triple digits


At the ceremony, fourteen surviving huelguistas sat on the Kiosk’s stage facing the Starr County Courthouse, high on a hill a few blocks north. Many of them had been jailed on its third floor. In a story that’s unrecorded in the newspaper clippings I’ve read but was told to me in numerous interviews with strikers, jailed demonstrators heard a rumor that the Rangers were coming to take them to the fields and do what Stetson-hatted rinches had done to resistance-minded Mexican Americans for more than a century.

to a Labor Day rally with Chávez himself. But as momentum stalled amid infighting and lack of leadership, Chávez began to see the Starr strike like an “unwanted child,” as editor Doug Adair put it. Whether the decision to send Tony was based on his formidable reputation as an organizer or Chávez’s desire to get him out of his hair is unclear. But Tony embraced his exile—if that’s what it was—relishing the chance to try things his own way. His arrival to Rio Grande City marked a newly creative, militant, distinctly Tejano phase of the campaign. If the Starr strike were a corrido, it had found its hero—or antihero. In matters of style and substance, Tony was Chávez’s foil. Chávez dressed as a farmworker; Tony was sartorially flashier, instantly recognizable by his black hat and curled mustache. Chávez was a third-generation American who struggled with how to treat noncitizens within the union; Tony was a twice-deported Mexican immigrant who argued for universal membership. Chávez was deeply religious; Tony was devoutly In matters of style and substance, Tony was Chávez’s foil. Chávez dressed as a farmworker; Tony was sartorially flashier, instantly recognizable by his black hat and curled mustache. Chávez was a third-generation American who struggled with how to treat noncitizens within the union; Tony was a twice-deported Mexican immigrant who argued for universal membership. Chávez was deeply religious; Tony was devoutly secular. Chávez advocated passive resistance; Tony had participated in acts of targeted vandalism against growers. Although they’d worked closely together since the 1950s, Tony called his mentor “Chávez,” a departure from the union’s first-name-basis culture. In the same week I met Daria, I visited with Tony at his house in Pharr, forty miles east of Rio Grande City. He was a frail eightyfive years, using a walker and at times struggling to catch his breath. Still, we spoke for over two hours, his dry wit and propensity to speak in proverb-like dichos on full display. He wasn’t planning on attending

OXFORD AMERICAN / FALL 2016

huelguistas from standing closer than fifty feet from one another. Unlike in California, where the end of the World War II–era bracero agricultural guest-worker program in 1964 created a tight labor market, Starr growers could bus in replacements from across the Rio Grande with relative ease and secrecy. Law enforcement including the Texas Rangers, with their long, successful, and sometimes violent record of strikebreaking—tended to turn a blind eye.

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POETRY /DOLLAR GENERAL

DOLLAR GENERAL By Erika Meitner

At the Dollar General before Christmas a woman muttering to herself in Gift Wrap picks out a roll of pastel paper that’s clearly meant for a baby shower—ducks, bottles, lavender safety pins—then asks me if I think it’s all right for a baby shower. I tell her it’s cute, and when she holds up two enormous cotton-candy pink gift bows, and asks me to choose, I point to the one with small pink feet dangling in plastic from the bow’s center, which looks cheaper than the plainer option, but more festive, and who doesn’t like festive? Everyone in town is buying stocking stuffers, and in the next aisle, a familiar woman juggling bubble bath and pencils waves hello—I only know her as Kate’s mom— and she’s actually wearing one of those floor-length green and red wool plaid skirts featured exclusively in holiday catalogs with faux family photo spreads of tree-trimming parties. Near a pyramid of cookie tins, there’s a kindergarten teacher I also recognize from my son’s school, out with her teenage son,

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loading up on frozen pizzas and Sunbeam bread. What are the details I’ve left out? That I’m not


That I’m relentlessly straightforward lately, which has to do with my need to tell you exactly what happened, because what happened is so unclear. There is never enough information about my neighbors, about the ways in which people live. I’ve been living in the South now for most of my adult life. You shall love your neighbor as yourself, says Leviticus 19:18,

OXFORD AMERICAN / FALL 2016

poor. That I’ve never had to buy food at the Dollar Store at the end of the month.

and the Hebrew word for neighbor is ray’ah, meaning friend, companion, fellow, other. I am neighbor and other. I am a Jew and the mother of one white son and one black son. I’ve been writing about guns lately, but this is not really a poem about guns—it’s about Christmas, though some people think I’ve declared war on the holiday when I wish them Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We are the only Jewish family in the neighborhood, which isn’t a problem, except around holiday time, when I’m sure our house is the saddest on the block because it is unlit. When we had lunch to chat about adoption, my neighbor—my neighbor who is also infertile—my neighbor, whom I do not see in Dollar General—my neighbor, who has three Christmas trees in her house and garland wrapped on every handrail and mantel—she asks me about the home study process: when a social worker comes to your house to assess how you live, what kind of family you are, whether you have fire extinguishers on each floor and keep your

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