Child in Memphis

Dorothea Lange photograph, 1938

Adam Tavel

The shack porch laced

with bean vines wears

the blaze of June.

This black and white


is knotted string

a mother’s hands

have tied across

the absence of

a rail, from boards

to roof, so shoots

can trellis on

the air. The girl

who squints into

the whitened glare

behind the white


must know her door

hangs open for

the flies, mule dust,

and present tense

of sharecropping.

Maybe she dreams

the sound it makes,

a camera smashed

to glimmered shards

beneath her heels.

She’s nine or ten.

Her limbs too lean

from overwork,

her knotted hands

rest on her smock.

Or so I guess.

I cannot know

them there, those wrists

that taper to

small knuckles clenched,

obscured by blooms.

Adam Tavel is the author of four books of poetry, including the forthcoming Sum Ledger (Measure Press, 2021). His most recent collection, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). His recent poems appear, or will soon appear, in The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, The Los Angeles Review, Midwest Quarterly, 32 Poems, and Tampa Review, among others. You can find him online at

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