Green Beans

Photo from Flickr--no photographer identified--used by a cooking blog.

The original story in the Roanoke Times included a picture of white-haired Elizabeth holding a can of beans with a title something like, "Women Hasn't Opened Can of Beans for 57 years."  I wrote this to imagine why....



"And as the years passed
the beans became a reminder
of her long-departed youth."

--Roanoke Times and World News, 10/26/78


Last week Elizabeth turned eighty.
She touches her hand to jar
blue against the velvet green of her beans
canned 1921, last year they had the farm.
The beans curve, green fingers
tip to tip
long, slender
as hers were that July
everyone said she'd the prettiest hands.

She feels cool weight of quart
thinks of pots steaming
so hot that July
Jonathan drug the woodstove out in the yard.
She is telling her daughter
a teaspoon of sugar
a teaspoon of salt
now wipe that rim.

Beans were scarce that year.
She paid her little ones
to pick beetles off
not before the vines all wilted.
Only one row in the new ground thrived
an odd row planted when she ran out of corn.
She sowed and picked beans by the moon
not enough to can
she canned them anyway
stacking beans upright
in concentric circles.

Nights she lay at Jonathan's side
stared at beans in the moon patterned ceiling.
At midnight
she finally slipped from the bed
counted stripe on stripe
tomatoes, peaches, corn
a hundred quarts

and that can of beans

cool fingers
soothing her to sleep.


Wish I  had a copy of the article in the Roanoke Times with me, so I could scan the picture of  Elizabeth.

This poem was originally published by Artemis, as I recall.  Although I started it in 1978, when I first joined a writers' workshop, I didn't finish it until several years later at the Hindman Settlement School's Writers' Workshop.  It turned out to be the first of a series about Elizabeth, called Weatherings, which take place over the course of a year in which the weather evokes earlier memories.  Fred Chappell used to sign notes to me Old Fred and tease me that I was writing about myself.  (He didn't know that my birth name is Beth, not Elizabeth, but maybe he was on to something.)

I read it for an audience most recently on September 25 at Voices from the Mountains (the lead-up to the march and sit-in on September 27) and got compliments from our emcee Reverend Billy, novelist Silas House, poet Bob Henry Baber, activists Roland Micklem and Sue Rosenberg and musician Carry Kline, among others, which was heartening.

 To tell the truth, following barn burners like Larry Gibson and Micky McCoy, I was glad that there was a musical interlude before I read  : ).  After this I finished out with Looking Out Over An Abyss in Boone County, one of my own barn burners.  The latter is about Larry Gibson's 50 acres at the edge of an mtr site and I don't think I had ever read to an audience when he was present.

UPDATE:  I also read the poem on the Floyd Radio Show January 7, 2012, where it was recorded and you can now listen on an archived podcast, which I've included at the link.


Appalachia Rising Perfornances in DC this weekend--Me & Silas House, plus Crystal Good, Mickey McCoy, Jim Webb and Bob Henry Baber

Photo Berea students in 2007 at Appalachian Coal Field Delegation to the United Nations from the newsletter.  Silas has been named Berea's National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies.

Appalachia Rising will bring people from all over America together in Washington, D.C., September 25-27, 2010, to demand the abolition of mountaintop-removal (MTR) coal extraction in Appalachia.   As Maria Gunnoe wrote in Grist on September 22:

These mountains are the lifeblood of our existence. Where majestic, breathtaking views used to overlook the nearby valley towns, there is now devastation as far as the eye can see. Our soldiers' resting places are often at the peaks of these mountains; their cemeteries are now surrounded by miles of nothing but rubble and are left inaccessible to families. Our homes and schools and towns are threatened by flooding and debris and other problems caused by irresponsible mining.

Mountaintop-removal mining does not benefit nearby communities. It destroys nearby communities. The areas hit by Katrina are being rebuilt, but there's no rebuilding after MTR. Our towns are simply erased.

Here's the line-up of performances.  There will also be workshops and a big rally on September 27.

Saturday night - Georgetown University Conference Center

7:30 - Reverend Billy: sermon & emcee
7:45 - Michael & Carrie Kline
8:05 - Larry Gibson
8:15 - Crystal Good - reading
8:25 - Boo & Elena of Demolition String Band
8:45 - Mickey McCoy/Beth Wellington - reading
8:55 - Bryan Cahall
9:15 - Maria Gunnoe
9::25 - Silas House
9:40 - Christen Lien
10:00 - END NIGHT

After the reading come to741 Morton Street NW, Washington, DC.  RReNEW Collective (working against MTR in Wise County, Virginia) is hosting a benefit kegger with the local Dream City Collective (a future worker-run clothing and book shop which recently sponsored an event with Tricia Shapiro, author of the new book Mountain Justice; Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, for the Future of Us All.

Sunday Morning - Georgetown University Conference Center

8:00-8:30 am - Breakfast with Ben - special morning performance with Ben Sollee

Speaker: Teri Blanton
Morning Music: Joe Overton

Sunday Night - Georgetown University Conference Center

with special emcee Carl Shoupe
8:00 - Reading by Jim Webb
8:25 - Reverend Billy & the Church of Life After Shopping
9:05 - Reading by Bob Henry Barber
9:15 - Brett Ratliff
9:25 - Bo Webb, Beverly May, &; Brett Ratliff - Speech & Song: "Sow It on the Mountain/Reap it in the Valley"
9:35 - Andrew McKnight & Beyond Borders
10:05 - End Night