Pink Dress Pastoral

by Charlotte Hughes

after Andrew Wyeth’s painting ‘Christina’s World’

1

When there was such a thing as country I stood in a tobacco field and felt I was drowning

2

Now I can buy a muslin pink prairie dress online. If I don’t have enough money the website says I could cut my hair with an electric razor – shearing a sheep – and my locks would be enough

3

I wrote, Tabor City is my better ghost

4

I am always slouching towards the ranch house with the scuppernong bushes off 15th Street

5

Warp & woof. As if there aren’t waves of tobacco plants separating me – the bone brown leaves about to crack & unmask the rattlers & farm rats. How the leaves hum like locked plates in the breeze

6

In North Carolina we went to a tobacco museum. We were the only ones there. The museum showed stuffed men, sharecroppers, standing in their exhibit-homes as they watched us

7

I still think I’d like to buy the pink dress

8

At the end of the museum there was a tray of soft peppermints and a corkboard with sticky notes to write comments

9

All I could see was death

10

I am thirteen, at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Tabor City. I have wandered off because my great-uncle calls me Cherisse, Cheryl, Charlotta and my third cousin smells like Pall Malls and I have to eat in the garage with the cousins next to gasoline containers. My lips match my dress: ice pink. I watch the field. The leaves mumble my name under their breath, and by the time I’ve brushed their faces, I’m halfway into the field and the ranch house is memory, a cracking wood-paneled thing the size of my thumb. I cry, reach for the house but only the leaves hear

11

There is nothing as empty as a full field