In our continued “Once Upon a Time” search for the roots, many expressions and forms of ‘story’ discussed on this site so far, from early haiku, genealogy, “The Old Woman’s Preserves”, traditional fairy and folk tale rendering alá the Brothers Grimm…I now present the wonder of Jo Carson’s oral gathering of down-home, truth-in-the-telling stories… from the mouth to the page.
She’s from Johnson City, Tennessee and best noted for her play, “Daytrips”, as well as her commentaries on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
“54”, printed below, comes, from the section “We Say of Ourselves” in her beautiful book of work: STORIES I AIN’T TOLD NOBODY YET, Selections from the People Pieces, Theater Communications Group, 1991.
Following the poem, please read from her Preface to this book , where she “says it all” in her own words. –Norbert Blei
I am asking you to come back home
before you lose the chance of seein’ me alive.
You already missed your daddy.
You missed your uncle Howard.
You missed Luciel.
I kept them and I buried them.
You showed up for the funerals.
Funerals are the easy part.
You even missed that dog you left.
I dug him a hole and put him in it.
It was a Sunday morning, but dead animals
don’t wait no better than dead people.
My mama used to say she could feel herself
runnin’ short of the breath of life. So can I.
And I am blessed tired of bury in’ things I love.
Somebody else can do that job to me.
You’ll be back here then; you come for funerals.
I’d rather you come back now and got my stories.
I’ve got whole lives of stories that belong to you.
I could fill you up with stories,
stories I ain’t told nobody yet,
stories with your name, your blood in them.
Ain’t nobody gonna hear them if you don’t
and you ain’t gonna hear them unless you get back home
When I am dead, it will not matter
how hard you press your ear to the ground.
From Jo Carson’s preface to STORIES I AIN’T TOLD NOBODY YET:
The pieces all come from people. I never sat at my desk and made them up. I heard the heart of each of them somewhere. A grocery store line. A beauty shop. The emergency room. A neighbor across her clothesline to another neighbor. I am an eavesdropper and I practiced being invisible to get them. My aunt introduced me for awhile saying, “Be careful what you say; she writes things down.” I asked her not to say it. Blew my cover.
I did sit at my desk to reconstruct what I heard, so it was not that I hauled out notebooks on the spot and copied down people’s words. The pieces are distillations. Some of these conversations took longer than others. Some took longer to write than others; one or two took years.
My intent has been to remain true to the speaker’s thoughts and rhythms of speech and anything else that can be kept somehow in chosen words. When there is reference to another person, I have changed names. The layout on the page has to do with how the pieces should sound.
I have used these pieces in performance for several years. Doing them always seems to call up other stories. “You need to meet my cousin, he’s got this dog…” It’s the thing I love the best about them. I hope it holds true for print.