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Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl

Shelby Stephenson (see all by)


Shelby Stephenson

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This impressive collection is one of the most unusual poetry books you’ll find. It blends the poet’s now with a hard imagined past that’s based on his extensive research into archives that allow the dead to live again, and in the process it takes on the voices of many characters, none more powerfully than the one imagined for the young slave girl July. His research authenticates the frame of this narrative recollection of the family of slaves that worked his great-great-grandfather’s Johnston County farm, and before he’s done, his haunting becomes our own. 

Despite all the oppressive gloom of a slaves-and-master way of living, the natural world still, on some days, brings hope and joy, no mater how foolish it might seem to feel good enough to skip through a world so thoroughly mean and unfair:

You are the rounding
moon over rooftops, July,
crops, hackled feathers,
elves loose in corners,
that stranger rank as the ham my mother sliced to flush drunkardflies__
taint in the hum her lips pursed,
spirituals rising out of thickets and brambles where birds roosted in the woods.
I see you skipping, barefooted, way down in the fall, your instep, arched. 

We’d like to think she’s skipping away to freedom, but always in this real, sad world, 
The dark takes over.

AuthorShelby Stephenson
PublisherBellday Books
Publication Date2008
No. of Pages58
Cover Photo CreditCassandra Patten
Designed byCassandra Patten