NEA Literature Fellowships

Reginald L. Flood

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(2013 - Poetry)

Dreaming Pickled Pig Feet After Listening to Lucinda Williams

 (For Ginny on her sixteenth birthday)

These trailer park epiphanies swing hard
until I am back there again
pedaling fast down Central, right turn at the stoplight
Country Farms Market
in the middle of Compton, big sacks of Carolina rice
framing the double glass doors
sawdust on the floor, always smelling like August.
Down that big center aisle
past the Texas watermelons, striped, 3 cents a pound
around the big bin of sweet corn
setting on top of the meat counter --
towering over mounds of chitterlings and salt pork
biggest mason jar I'd ever seen,
filled with pickled pig feet.
    Daughter, you gave me the gift of these
white girl hillbilly blues that make me want to dance
down a gravel road and spin in front of concrete
& barb wire.  You told me I had to hear this, had to--
and now sixteen again, I am bicycling the ripe block and a half
to a taste I have been waiting for all day.

They are best when the vinegar
is slightly cloudy, dotted with chunks green and white
pink masses large as fists--married together
until you stride up to the counter, plop down a quarter
and the old German man comes over to pull
them apart, revealing the fat wrinkles
and the pink flesh around the toes.

Boys can walk up my driveway now.
They strut slow and deliberate,
stepping from asphalt to groomed flagstone
across gorgeous green that has never
never seen one stalk of crab grass,
each foot fall shouting that they got a right,
a right to come straight up in here. 
Boys can walk up my driveway now.

    Daughter, the sweetest meat lives
right around the toes.  But first, your mouth
must carefully navigate cartilage tendon and bone.

When that old man pulls yours from the others
and plops it on wax paper, ask for extra napkins.
Bite firmly across wide section of hock
use front teeth to gently pull away meat in strips.
Work slowly but surely down to the toes
curl tongue tightly to free morsels from knuckle,
savor the pink chunks of flesh that live there.
Don't be distracted by full mouth, and first sting
of juice oozing from corners of your lips
arch your chin slightly, napkins under pig feet
because vinegar stains daughter, vinegar stains.

(from Coffle, Willow Books)

Reginald Flood is a native of south central Los Angeles who now lives in a small town in southeastern Connecticut with his family. He has received a Walker Fellowship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Center and was the recipient of the 2010 Editor's Prize from Tidal Basin Review. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Cave Canem X Anniversary Collection, Massachusetts Review, Mythium, Hampton-Sydney Review, and African American Review. His first collection of poems, Coffle, was published by Willow Books last year. He is an associate professor of English and Coordinator of African American Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he teaches composition, African-American literature, and creative writing. He is a Cave Canem fellow.

Photo by Ginny E. Flood

Author's Statement

This fellowship is more than anything else the gift of the most precious resource I have: time. It allows me to extend my sabbatical through the summer and focus strictly on making poems, and that is something I have never had the leisure to do. My second book has been germinating for a while and it focuses on the slave narratives collected by interviewers employed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Now, I will have the time and resources to research not only the individuals who told their stories, but the interviewers who recorded their narratives. I believe this will add a layer of complexity to the sequence of poems growing out of these narratives.

There is a feeling of validation that comes with this award--that struggling to write in a uniquely American voice--a black voice couched in traditional British forms has some value, and that has been much appreciated.