October 4, 2016

A Poem by Lucia Walton Robinson: "Hand-Me-Downs: A Sestina for Graggy"

Lucia Walton Robinson is both a Hoosier and a Southern poet, holding degrees from Butler and Duke. Having edited books in Manhattan and taughtliterature and writing in a Florida college, she’s now ensconced near the Carolina coast and her daughter, also an editor and poet. Her work has appeared in Kakalak 2015, The Penwood Review, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, The Southern Poetry Anthology, vol. VII, Indiana Voice Journal, and other publications.

George W. and Adelaide Titus Ham family: top row, L-R: Zora Ham ( m. Charles F. Reeves), my grandmother; Walter Scott and Lora Yetter Ham; Samuel Vinton Ham (home from West Point). lower row: Dr. Charles Titus (home from Bellevue Hospital in New York City); Estelle Ham (m. B.B. Cannon iii); George Washington Ham holding Mabel Katherine (m. Clayton Kitterman); Adelaide Titus Ham with Georgia <<...>> Guinevere (m. Joseph Ostrander); Thaddeus Cooper Ham (m. Eva Elgin); Viola Virginia (m. Fred Gable).

Hand-Me-Downs: A Sestina for Graggy
(Adelaide Titus Ham, 1851-1930)

While growing up with extended-family stories,
I laboriously learned to spell my second name,
Great-grandmother’s, which was also Mother’s first.
It hung on me like dresses my sister’d worn,
inherited, like Father’s black brows, songs
Mother sang off-key, and insatiable love of learning..

Young Adelaide’s petite beauty and thirst for learning
captivated veteran George. She eloped in her farm-worn
dress at barely sixteen, as his well-scrubbed stories
from Southern campaigns, his plaintive Texas songs
and handsome face despite his peculiar name
attracted her strong curiosity from the first.

When babe after babe came to succeed the first,
she boarded teachers to enhance her learning.
As she baked, she sang her toddlers alphabet songs,
invented geographic rhymes to augment worn
texts while George derived their sons’ proud names
from histories, their daughters’ from exotic stories.

Though she regaled their young with Bible stories,
in the fields he taught the boys less pious songs,
but her swift switch delivered rapid learning
to any who called his brother an unholy name.
George’s army tales early enthralled their first,
lured to West Point for the blue coat his father’d worn.

Of ten they raised, first daughter Zoe, though worn,
excelled at math and teaching, wrote fine stories.
George said he could afford the boys’ higher learning
only. His wife’s response had a strong defiant name:
she led the girls on strike till George, adamant at first,
then hungry for food and comfort, changed his song.

Like him, their sons would woo with Texas songs.
Though each daughter in turn would take another name,
only one failed to base her life on love of learning.
One boy studied medicine; two heard bold stories
of conflict in Cuba and joined up to follow the first.
George entered politics, but soon Adelaide was worn

with his last illness. Twice-grieving at leaving the land for the first
time she braved the state capital, broadening her own learning
as she handed their songs and stories down with their names.

Lucia Walton Robinson

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