His mother’s words: Be a good boy!
Whatever that meant in 1920.
What did Harry T. Burn know?
He was a man now: 24
Republican Tennessee Representative.
He’d seen her in the kitchen, kerchief
holding back her hair, the kettle’s steam
whooshing to her face as she fished
out mason jars loaded with peaches
glossily preserved for winter desserts.
At meals she served herself last.
Listened, didn’t ask or say much.
He saw her give food to men
who came to the back door
at strange times of the day.
She wore a faded apron all week long,
hung it up before Sunday church.
Sang hymns fervently, a surprising
strength of breath, and sweetness
not audible in her daily speech.
She gardened early and late, violent
towards the weeds threatening
her crops, hacking with her hoe,
pinching weevils and aphids. Tender
with her lettuces and seedlings.
He thought of her now as his turn came
to vote; the numbers were even.
Be a good boy, she’d said.
He still wasn’t sure, but she
carried the day. The 19th was passed.
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