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Southwords

Stories 1 to 4 of 4
12/1/2011

The Great Speckled Bird Flies Again

An aging hippie limps into Aurora Coffee and takes a seat beneath the concert flyers that cover the wall. He drops a plastic grocery bag onto the sticky countertop, lifts out a pile of old newspapers folded in half. The hippie has sunken cheeks and a gray beard, a thick mustache and a full head of short, graying hair. He’s wearing tennis shoes and a T-shirt with a cartoon bird on the front, its wing curled into a fist. His papers—well, they’ve yellowed over the years, and the ink has faded, the pages turned brittle. He bends one of the copies carefully at the spine. “If you open them too fast, they’ll tear,” Steve Wise says, slowly folding back the first page of a copy of the Great Speckled Bird. This issue is forty-two years and seven months beyond its publication date. With pride, he points to an essay he ... Read more
3/1/2011

Over the Big Top

It was summer. I was five years old, and my mother had taken me to a park in Chattanooga, the town where I grew up, to paint banners for a kids’ parade taking place later in the week. I was on my hands and knees in the grass, smearing tempera paint over rolled-out expanses of white kraft paper, but my heart was elsewhere. It lay across the field and under a pavilion where a swarm of other kids—older kids—were tumbling on floor mats, juggling and clowning, teetering across low-slung tightropes. They were all a blur of giggles and flailing limbs and bright colors. They were having so much fun.   They were at circus camp.   I saw them perform a few days later in the kids’ village at the festival. It’s a hazy memory now, but I know they were all in costume, I know the crowd laughed and ... Read more
2/1/2011

Mum’s the Word

Whenever I take MARTA from the airport, just before the train dips underground in College Park, I crane my neck to see the high, wooden house that my great-grandfather built for his family. In fact, he built most of the beautiful old homes in College Park that have stood for more than a century. His name was D.G. Bettis; people called him Duke. He was a contractor and banker who served one term as mayor of College Park. He filled the enormous house with children. He had six girls and two boys. He is buried with many of them at the College Park Cemetery, and I have visited their graves. My interest in the old home has deepened since I uncovered a dark family secret that was hidden from my sister and me by the dishonesty of our mother. Throughout her life, my mother told me that Duke died from ... Read more
12/1/2010

The Legacy of Deliverance

Forty years after its publication, Deliverance leaves most of us native Appalachian readers feeling—much like that quartet of luckless river voyagers—conflicted and sore. Its legacy of comedic shorthand spawned in the backwoods of northeast Georgia functions as a regional guilty pleasure. Most of us do not know whether to bow up at the story’s gamy iconography or wear the gag-gift T-shirt that reads “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music!” However, many of the toothless-sodomizer jokes I have cracked over the years taste brackish in my purty mouth now that I finally have read the book, which does not contain the “purty mouth” or “squeal like a pig” lines made famous in the movie’s harrowing man-on-man rape. I grew up just down a curvy road from where the story’s action takes place, but I shied away from the novel for years, leery of what I might discover about “my people,” and ... Read more