Elegy for George Garrett
Bobby C. Rogers

Elegy for George Garrett

My mother dragged me on her daytrips down patched and unlined roads, paying calls on our
++++++country relations. Everyone I was kin to
lived at the ass-end of the earth: Aunt Ethel who still kept store out on the Greenfield highway;
++++++Lottie Stubblefield
wearing an old poke bonnet as she hoed the weeds in her garden; Cousin Bertie, so far from town
++++++an outhouse leaned
in her backyard. My mother was determined no family be forgotten no matter how distant the
++++++connection, but I hadn’t yet learned
to care about the stories I heard told time and again in those decrepit houses where the floors sagged
++++++and the front rooms reeked
of snuff, bitter as the smell off a pile of clods beside an open grave, the scent of time that hadn’t
++++++succeeded in passing. Years later I found myself

in George Garrett’s living room learning to tell stories with a crowd of students from God knows
++++++where all. To teach us anything
he would have to tell stories himself. When a character had been poorly introduced, his answer
++++++might be to pull down Vol. 3
of Shelby Foote’s Narrative History of the Civil War and read from where Grant walks into the
++++++Willard Hotel. We didn’t know how to hear him
and wouldn’t believe that truth resided mostly in the way we wrote the rattle of the leaves. Cousin
++++++Bertie’s outhouse was a conversation piece—
she’d had running water and a septic tank for years. Historians would say Foote’s retelling of the
++++++war wasn’t even a work
of history. I went to see my old teacher the summer before he died. We sat in the living room
++++++where I’d come to believe
history is as much performance as anything else, and he spun out a few more of his anecdotes, my
++++++last lesson in the ways
even the old stories will become new and near if told with enough care to just one person who’ll sit
++++++still and hear you out.

Bobby C. Rogers

is Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at Union University. His first book, Paper Anniversary, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. In 2015, he was named a Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress by Poet Laureate Charles Wright. His new book, Social History, has just been released by LSU Press in their Southern Messenger Poets series.