Five Points, Vol. 6 No. 1Fall 2001
From John Hollander, “I don’t think form is the essence of poetry. I think all this other stuff is.”
for Lee Zacharias
After so many storms hit the island the people started to move away. In the end it was only Henry Thornton on one side of the creek, Miss Maggie and Miss Whaley on the other. Sisters: Miss Maggie with her dirty same old skirt and Henry’s old waders she used to slosh across the creek, Maggie hugging on him nights when she got into her rum and came swishing down to his place to hide out from her sister. Henry hid out from Miss Whaley himself, stuck close to his house down the creek where his family had stayed since anyone could remember. Three bodies left on the island and a Colored Town right on until the end. Every day Henry would cross the creek up to where his white women lived: sisters, but Miss Maggie had got married and could go by her first name instead of Whaley which her older sister by three years clung to like the three of them clung firm to their six square miles of sea oat and hummock afloat off the elbow of North Carolina.
Across the sound it got to be 1979. Henry’s oldest boy Crawl gave up fishing menhaden out of Morehead to run a club. He wrote Henry that he’d purchased this disco ball. Miss Maggie read the letter out to Henry on the steps of the church one warm night. Henry told her, write Crawl tell him send one over, we’ll run it off the generator in the church, hang it up above the old organ, have this disco dance. Henry made a list of everybody he’d invite back, all of them who’d left out of there after Bertha blew through and took the power and the light. Crawl wrote how that ball spinning under special bulbs would glitter diamonds all up and down your partner. Miss Maggie snickered, said, I ain’t about to take a letter and tell him that. Imagine what Whaley would do come some Saturday night when we’re dancing in a light bound to suffer her a hot flash. Up under his breath Henry said, We? Ain’t no we. In his head he was twirling his Sarah around in a waterspout of diamonds. Tell everybody come back for the disco, Crawl, he wrote in his head. All of his eleven children and Miss Maggie’s son Curt the prison guard up in Raleigh. Hell, Crawl, invite back those Coast Guard boys and some of the summer people even. He was sealing up his letter when he looked out across the marsh to where night came rolling blueblack and final over the sound. He ripped that letter open and crossed it all out and said instead, No thank you son to some disco ball, we got stars.
Every morning Henry poled his skiff out into the shallows to fish for dinner. He stayed out in good weather to meet the O’Neal boys, fishermen from Ocracoke who met the Cedar Island ferry every day for mail. Be sure you give me all them flyers, he’d say every time and the O’Neals would hand him a sack of grocery store circulars sent over from the mainland advertising everything. Miss Whaley liked to call out the prices at night. “They got turkey breast 29 cent a pound.” All it took to make Henry wonder how come he stayed was to sit around long enough to hear Whaley say this three times a night about a two-week-old manager’s special one hundred miles up in Norfolk. Crawl was always after him to move off island, had come after him six times since Bertha. You don’t got to stay here looking after the sisters daddy til they die or you one. Come on, get in the boat. Crawl showed up wearing his hair springy long and those widelegged pants made out of some rough something, looked like cardboard, to where your legs couldn’t breathe. Boots don’t ought to come with a zipper. Why would Henry want to climb in any boat with duded-up Crawl? He would keep quiet watch his grandbabies poking around the beach and going in and out of the houses standing empty waiting on their owners to come back, sitting right up on brickbat haunches pouting like a dog will do you when you go off for awhile. He would watch his grandson jerk crabs out of the sound on a chicken liver he give them and having themselves some big easy time until they hit that eyecutting age. Look at Granddaddy fussing after his white women, what for? Henry would look at them not looking at him and hear the words out of Crawl’s mouth all across the Pamlico Sound and all the way back. Your granddaddy don’t want to change none. That island gonna blow and him with it one of these days.