"In Our Own Backyard" by Norma Cole
You can’t imagine what it’s like here. In her past
life, she was a clandestine operator in ancient
Egypt. In a past life she had her heart ripped out,
ritual sacrifice. We all know what that
means, right, to have your heart ripped out. Torn
from the body, one’s “own” body, alive and torn.
The unspeaking speaker. The man coughs.
Orientation. Two bells, a motorcar on the
street, on-lookers. H22-3416. Men, maybe
four, inside. Vast numbers of people, faces
turned to the east. Four nurses holding four
swaddled babes, four bottles.
Six men walking forward on a country road
all wearing suits, coats, vests and ties. Upon
his shoulders, one of the men carries a man with
no legs. The man with no legs is wearing a
bathrobe. In a landscape a train passes from
top right to bottom left. People are packed inside
as well as on the roof and holding on at the sides.
One man, naked, his back turned to the
window, light on inside. A bird in a cage hung
on a hook at the top left-hand corner of the
window. A man in profile to the left, eyes closed
mouth open wide, singing. Or thought he was
singing. He did. Or we did. The back of a chair and
three tall mirrors. At their focal point a woman
stands, arms akimbo. She’s wearing evening dress
black high heels, long white gown, long black
gloves, necklace, earrings.
Outside the bakery, a horse-drawn hearse
approaches. A woman in an apron tests green grapes
eating them before placing bunches in a wooden
crate. Inside a Quonset hut, there’s a long
table with men sitting in chairs writing or paying
attention to one man standing at the table, hands
in the pockets of his jumpsuit. Shirtless men seated
on the floor, some on towels or blankets, are doing
exercises. Friday afternoon, cold grim day. We meet
in the museum, at a picture called “Birmingham.”
Sign on exterior wall saying “WELCOME.”
Norma Cole, "In Our Own Backyard" from Where Shadows Will
City Lights Spotlight No. 1. Copyright © 2009 by Norma Cole.
Point of Interest on Audio
Beyond the fact that this a wonderful piece of writing, it was the narrative delivery that captured my attention. Specifically, the cadence, the modulation, the beat.
Only with further research did I discover that Cole had suffered a stroke in 2003, affecting her speech. Further analysis bears no impact on my admiration for the work which remains held in high regard.
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