Heather Dobbins


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“God Lets the Calamities Fall on Us as One”

--John Sharp Williams, former congressman and senator of Mississippi
the sharecropper as a teenager

From up here, wooden beams are broken clothespins in river.
White bodies ride, their rescue tended to first.

Splinters floating in tirade, water that shoves.
400 of us at the top of the levee, but that barge is not for us.

Why bother to stand up? Shoulder. Unload till bent.  
More sandbags and swell than we can work.

No, that barge is not for us.
Barn, pigpen, chickens, a neighbor’s house wash away.

Assault and brown pour. Forces of runnel, claiming.
Nothing louder than silt and channel, hauling till it’s through,

forced to stay put till they’re safe.
We were told the break was coming,

but in this country, property is a man.
Ain’t nothing  without your own land.

Cotton always a damn gamble,
debt for sure. If the flood recedes, return this refugee

to what he owes on. Plow, a box of matches, an axe rush by.
Yesterday weighs the same.  

Mr. National Guard, Mrs. Red Cross, you protect
what you call safety outside these negro sharecropper camps.  

Nothing left to do, sights on us, one at a time, aiming,
rifles slung on your soft, unbruised shoulders.


In Three Days Time
the sharecropper’s daughter

In the river, I could ignore
what my family said. Now you bled,
you too old for horseplay.
He is not brown enough.
We don’t have the same God.

The moon hid
behind a cloud for us.
Our hair was the same darkness.

His fingers on my elbow, a toe on my knee.
He could touch me, say it
was a fish against my calf.

River in my ear, I missed what he said first.
The bottom was slowness between our toes.
Each body calling across the flat, the brown cover
without voice.

Then he said, A cobra is a baby
to a stinging snake.
One bite will kill the oldest oak here.
In three days time,
might as well be a toothpick.

All life in the water trusts its home.
The river’s only promise is it will disobey.


Heather Dobbins’s poems and poetry reviews have appeared in Beloit Poetry Review, CutBank, The Pinch, Raleigh Review, The Rumpus, and TriQuarterly Review, among others. She has been awarded scholarships and fellowships to Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts' workshop in Auvillar, France. Heather Dobbins graduated from the College Scholars program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After several years of earning graduate degrees in California and Vermont, she returned to her hometown of Memphis. Her debut, In the Low Houses, was published in 2014. For more information, visit heatherdobbins.com.