Sunday, September 27, 2009

Charleston, Stuck In Time

In recent weeks South Carolina has captured headlines for their ignominy. From the State House to Congress they have displayed hypocrisy, mendacity and incivility. And behind all this shame is their heritage of racism.

I'm reminded of a trip to Charleston taken about twenty years ago. I felt as if I had wandered behind the enemy lines. The Civil War, which they call, "Mr. Lincoln's War On The South" seemed to be still in progress.

Here is my letter to Charleston written at that time.......

I love your crab-cakes, your palmettos and Spoletto, Charleston, city many-times charred where charm oozes over cannons and cobblestones, where Gable lives and gives a damn for that ante-bellum syrup Aunt Jemima made which didn't go with the wind. Into this place, Charleston, charleton, I come as tourist complicit in your fiction, breakfasting on your version of grits as the history major turned carriage driver tells us Yankees what really happened to Calhoun and Gen. Beauregard, how the darkies loved their home etc. And for the ride I am his confederate to demonstrate northern hospitality in this revisionist Gray which is your growth industry.

You are a charmer, Charleston, consorting with the gods to keep the demons away. You could be Los Angeles Or Detroit. These cities are no better. Better is nowhere. Only Charleston could be better than Charleston.

You are not chaste and in that "late unpleasantness" at Appomattox you did not win, you placed. But you talk a different talk and there is an atrocity you have not walked. You kick sideways with one foot as the other stays in place. This is the dance you know. Even the dead do it.

They hover just above the ground in the churchyard between the marbled men who were certain of their place in this world while the dead across the swamp have turned over more than once as they did, alive, "knowing their place." In this city of genteel violence cemeteries buckle and heave as the forgotten, prowl and haunt your sleep, Charleston, gnawing at the lie.

Along the road out of town, woman weave and hum. Everything they have endured goes into their baskets. Sweet grass and pine needles in their mouth and all the sorrows no longer swallowed.

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