Reading time: Approximately 5 minutes
As an editor, I was pulled into Sara Youngblood Gregory's prose-poetry work, "first first," by a sustained and rocking rhythm created by the unusual sentence structure. Using a personalized repetitive form with certain words, sounds, and extra spaces, Gregory covers both the emotional and psychological ground of family and personal history. In this successful poem, identity is tied to geography in unexpected ways, while the roots of it grow in repetition.
By Sara Youngblood Gregory
my dead grandmother is rich. rich, rich on virginia plantations whose first blood spilt was not hers, but last blood was. my grandaddy was a drinker & hers was a shooter. one night my grandmother’s dying mother took her running through the fields away, away way after the 4th of july when corn is higher than a little girl’s head. her grandaddy, born by the third world fair, shot & missed among the fields but kept the money, the land, the pony, the son.
i never ran away but dodged notice. 17 & i drove down. down, down south to port charlotte, which is all land locked between swamp and dirt roads. i drive my sister who only speaks to boys and we climb on the back of a four-wheeler, mud on my dress. really i am from the suburbs, it’s the dead you want, but gone comes out like what are you all up to? that night i watch girls in jeans their brown eyes jumping with bonfire. no i say, but i will smell it, remembering exploding corn & girl feet running with gold watches pinned to stockings. i didn’t taste the moonshine, but i saw it in those southern girl eyes.
my grandmother did not die that night in the corn but did she & years later died again in florida, near my alive mother singing something about oklahoma, where i have never been. she had green eyes and paper-doll skin by then, dying her second, no third time maybe more. i can’t keep count because not once did she die while i was there, i wasn’t born yet but for the final death & i was asleep at 17, driving home alive & dead sober.
it takes three hours & back roads to get anywhere. four to make a funeral. there is one winn dixie & one cold water spring where she is buried is heavy magnolia branches, skinny cows, & the center of a state. my mother dies her fourth death seeing the plot, and me, seeing her, find my first. first, first kiss of my very own is a girl with long hair, the face of an old woman & the bless your heart of the auntie i am now dead to.
reprinted with the permission of the poet
Sara Youngblood Gregory had this to say about "first first":
I wrote "first first" in the summer of 2019 while attending the Kenyon Review Poetry Workshop in Gambier, Ohio. Like much of my writing, "first first" comes from my mother and the stories she told me of her family. The poem isn't a factual telling of my grandmother's life, but it felt like a true one. If "first first" was about my grandmother running away, then it is also about me running home.
Sara Youngblood Gregory is a lesbian poet and culture writer. Her work has been published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Sinister Wisdom, and The Adroit Journal. Find her at saragregory.org and on Twitter, @s_youngblood_g