A trapezoid of power.
The lines are cursive, flowing, written with names long
dead. Sheridan, Williams, Spell. 139 Acres. Ours.
Round O Plantation, named after a man who lived there
before anyone thought to own it.
A man with a medallion-shaped tattoo. A name too long
for anyone to say.
Round O is ash, any mansion is now concave. Any workers who
were claimed as property gone – names and stories scattered like seed pods
ripped from their family tree.
I draw an X for where the descendants will try to make amends
over drops of blood buried
in this Southern land, swamp land.
Put a stake in and watch the tip lower
as it folds into the muck.
3 Questions for Maggie
What was your process for creating this work?
My mother who recently died suffered from dementia, and I’ve been scanning family photos that she collected and doing research on the family. I had collected various images –photos, documents, maps–in a folder on my computer. I started writing words only, however, the work seemed incomplete. The images wanted to tell their part of the story. I didn’t want to use the images the way my family would have traditionally used them, as a point of pride (“look at these distinguished ancestors: they were soldiers and planters and gracious gentlemen of the South”). I wanted to use these images as a bridge to a more honest reckoning with my familial past.
What is the significance of the form(s) you chose?
Poems are supposed to look like a poem. A map is supposed to be read for information. A Federal Census slave schedule was meant to list property. But ownership is perception. The Native Americans who lived on the land before my ancestors claimed it had a different perception of ownership. The enslaved people who were kidnapped and forced to work on the plantations also perceived their lives very differently from those who recorded the census. My words and my form call into question the rigidity of our understanding of history.
What is the significance of this work to you?
These pieces are part of a larger work in which I use art to reconcile the stories from the Southern side of my family with a more honest view of the past. My mother’s dementia and death, while devastating, gave me the opportunity to shine a light on many facets of family lore. I am chipping away at the monolith of white supremacy by starting with the most intimate matters: family memories.
Maggie Rosen lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her poems have been published in Little Patuxent Review, Waccamaw, Cider Press Review, RiverLit, Blood Lotus, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Barely South, and Conclave, among other publications. A poetry chapbook, The Deliberate Speed of Ghosts, was published in 2016 by Red Bird Chapbooks. A hybrid work integrating poetry and image appeared in Marrow Magazine in 2021.