Southern Gothic

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 9 No. 2, "Festival: Celebrating Southern Literature." Find more from that issue here.

For Carson McCullers and Bertha Harris of Fayetteville, NC


By Minnie Bruce Pratt

September 11, 1980


In my room are six windows

and a mirror big enough to walk through.

Then I see myself sit on a yellow bed and beyond

one window open into the green cavern of a tree.

In this mirror I have watched my face twist

with sorrow dangerous as a nest of coral snakes,

my body writhe with a lover, our arms,

our thighs silver in the moonlight, like eels

hurrying over a dewy meadow to the sea.


All the while the tree in the mirror trembled

with veins of ice or knotted itself into

fists of white flowers. Now berries are scattered

like red nipples over the yellowing skin of its leaves.


It is time for me to stand and look with a practiced


through the old glass that wavers behind me.

In this window I see the customary street, the lines

and fences that have caught the young woman

next door.

She lives like a rose-of-sharon tree set in an iron


I fear like her to be contained, but I know

at least two women before me in this town

have made an art of being strange, wandered

like wolves in its streets hunting for the wildness

hung between the starched clothes stiff on the line.


Like them I look with my eyes’ mirrors to see

the dwarfed housewife of forty years in the dawn

calling her cats to her like a gypsy queen,

the ponderous woman with elegant hands in

the sun

who roots up the last rose from her lawn

to make a jungle with fern and banana trees,

at the night end of the street the ghost of two girls

whose mouths kiss and separate and join again.


I see myself stand on the steps, the bearded lady

my hairy legs ready to run wild over the road,

living like wisteria, gnarled and twisted,

trailing with a lover down the steps

like two purple meteors of wisteria bloom

while to themselves neighbors murmur

how peculiar, how queer.