95 Years on the Delta

Sarah Russell

Boby Clariana Vonkanel talks about her Arkansas farm

It's not just the land that holds me here. The house is two houses, you know. Dad and Uncle John brought a shack and cobbled it to the old place when my third baby was coming. It was mostly close kin that owned the whole section back then, before they passed―me and Mama and Mama's brothers, John and Augie. John went to jail for Augie once since Augie had kids to raise. Moonshining. That's what they got him for. John married a black woman when he got out. Left their kid his farm, but the boy didn’t want this life. Sold and moved away.

Mama lived just down the road before her house burned. Then she stayed with me. We was never apart more than a day or two our whole lives. Oh, how she liked to sew pretty things―lace and silk embroidery on satin for pillows. Pretty things out here on a dirt road.

No, it's not the land so much as the pecan trees in the front there. Three hundred pounds in a good year. And the flowers. Volunteer lilies every Easter to bring to church, and gardenias and azaleas my kids send me. Don't get me corsages, I tell them. Give me something I can put in the ground and see every year, not just once. There’s six beds now. Augie fussed it was hard to mow around them, but I never had trouble. Maybe a little ragged at the edges, but looks OK from the road. Like my quilts. Stitching may be crooked, but keeps folks warm. Seams don't fray.

Won't be much longer I can stay here, though I'll fight. Only way to leave is in a pine box, I say. Lonesome since my cat died. Kids gone. Moved to the city. No money in farming now. I still sharecrop with a good man who pieces together his acres here and there. Cotton some years, though bean’s the cash maker now. Not as pretty as cotton, but they can grow cotton cheaper in China, so our gins are all tore down. Twenty miles to the one still open. Town's getting rickety, same as me. Folks just hanging on. Church down to a handful on Sunday. 

Most likely the kids will sell the farm. House won't last either. And the pecan trees don't bear like they used to. Maybe all of it'll turn to crops, even my flower beds. Won't happen 'til that pine box leaves with me in it though. Not if I can help it.

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Sarah Russell's work has been published in Third Wednesday, Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, and Psaltery and Lyre, among other print and online journals and anthologies. She was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her first poetry collection, I Lost Summer Somewhere was published in May by Kelsay Press. She blogs at https://SarahRussellPoetry.net.

Ranjana Varghese