Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Southern Men 1958-1968

The next edition of 5 or so questions will feature 9L staffer Eduardo Gabrieloff's interview with Tim Parrish, author of the essay "Southern Men 1958-1968," which is featured in the current issue of Ninth Letter. In order to give the interview better context, here is an excerpt from the essay.

Baton Rouge burned at night. Or so it seemed to me. From the top bunk above my brother Olan, I watched the flarestacks at the plants by the river spit flame into a salmon sky. Along the horizon the fat burn-off clouds pulsed pink. My imagination turned it all into the approaching apocalypse our pastor invoked at least every fourth Sunday. Yet I know the flames were simply part of the neighborhoods two miles away, where my parents had lived when only other whites lived there, the flames part of the plants like the one my daddy worked in thirty miles downriver.

Sometimes hard rains rose into our yard and slipped beneath the front door onto our living room floor. My friends and I waded through the dark oily floods, our parents yelling for us to be careful of drains sucking us down, our eyes scanning for red ants and roaches riding sticks or leaves and ready to land on our legs. People paddled flat-bottomed bateaus down the street. Once, a bass boat motored past sending its wake against our house.

Still, our street seemed a small island in a working-class neighborhood where poverty and abuse lurked but were rarely spoken about. Of course those things existed on our street, too, but my parents tried to protect my two older brothers and me from them. The violence I saw around me was minor, like the fights my friends and I had, wrestling with a few roundhouse punches and handshakes after, fights with reasons and endings. The adults were plant workers, school teachers, state employees, cops, and firemen. We all went to church and loved Jesus a little bit more than we loved LSU football. We stood up for ourselves. We disliked and distrusted blacks.

For a while I didn't see any contradictions.
5 or so questions with Tim Parrish will be posted on Thursday. To read the rest of "Southern Men 1958-1968" check out the current issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no. 1).

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