Featured Poem • February 2014

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Zora Neale Hurston Meets
Felicia Felix-Mentor on the Road

 

J.C. Runolfson

 
 

She is being erased. She can see it in those who swore they knew her at first her father, her husband, her neighbors. We were mistaken, they say now their eyes fixed past her. It was a mistake. Again she is taken from her home and expected not to notice but there is no draught to force forgetting. They treat her as a horse without a rider, what is there to forget? But she remembers some things now, remembered enough to come home even if the very earth from which she was wrested no longer wants her. The strangers want her the doctors and priests and storytellers all of them unwilling to accept a mistake unless it is theirs. Here comes one now, on the road toward her camera in hand. She doesn’t allow many pictures, people use them as an excuse not to look at her not to see the truth of her there, riding herself as best she can when that was never meant to be the way. They will do this to you too, she wants to tell this storyteller, whose picture she will allow because it will be taken by dark woman’s hands and it will be on the road and this one is certain it was no mistake, knows a little something about riding and being ridden. They will erase you. They will dismiss you, a horse and no rider. They will bury you. She wants, but she hasn’t the words anymore, those were left far to the north, on another road she doesn’t remember. So she stands for the picture, she looks into the camera, and lets her attention be the proof that the photographer was there too, on that hot, bright road where everything else washed out to white, chalk and bone. She is not white. She is blurred, but not erased, a restless horse, an untrained rider. Remember this, she hopes her face can say. Remember, and when they dig you up again and say we were mistaken, tell them it had better be your death they mean.

 
 

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JCJ.C. Runolfson’s work has appeared in Goblin Fruit, Stone Telling, and Strange Horizons, among others. She likes to wreak havoc with fairy tales in addition to wildly speculating about historical personages whose claims to fame tend toward the weird and uncanny. Like her beloved shelties, she has a bad habit of chewing her toys to pieces.

About this poem, she says, “Zora Neale Hurston’s photograph of Felicia Felix-Mentor is the first photo I remember absolutely arresting me when I saw it. It was accompanied by someone’s notes on how zombie-like she looked, how blank her stare and shambling her gait. Personally, it’s her direct stare that grabs my attention. She does not look shambling to me, but like she was on her way to something or somewhere, and her attention was diverted by the photographer in her path. I remember not knowing who the photographer was for several years afterward, and not knowing how to search, but I knew the photographer was important. To me, that photo looks reciprocal.”

 

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