bone country

by D. Ellis Phelps

for Mary Ann


i sit in your rocking chair

thinking what it must

have been like to be you


braided white hair

cane-backed poddy-chair

—its porcelain pot

how cold it was

when i sat there

my bottom  bare

as my dangling feet

the thinker thinking


—your mind a memory

you rocked on the back porch

in this chair holding

the good book

in your lap—upside down

your haunting voice reciting

what you had not forgotten

your thin, thin fingers

skimming the onion skin

your last years passing


on a farm in east texas

your daughter—your mother now

how we made butter in the jar she gave me:

shake it real hard

don’t stop

you’ll see the butter

curdle up

she said

how we milked the cow

my uncle and i

her soft teats in my small hand

his gentle coaxing the smell

of hay how the milk was warm


no water ran through

your house grandmother

but at the kitchen sink

—a hand pump

a porcelain pitcher and

a bowl in the wash room

how your daughter drew water

from the well a deep

black hole

i was afraid of falling


how she bathed me:


black iron pot

warm water from the fire

pouring over my skin

how she bathed you

sweet scent of magnolias



when i was born

they brought me to you

that’s the whitest child

i’ve ever seen

you said

grandmother they say:

you had a stroke and the doctors

said you’d never walk again

yes i will   

you said & you did

you used to come in from the garden

grinning smelling of garlic

white whisps of your long hair

trailing in the breeze behind you

i can see you now

& when your husband wanted to move

one more time for everyone’s good

you said: no

this is my home


when the six men carried your casket

down the center isle of the country church

to the graveyard next door

i learned of dying

& of letting go


now i sit in your rocking chair

my last years passing

thinking what it must

have been like to be you

you  who birthed five girls

and a boy who died too young

on a farm in east texas

how you held on

& how this place came to be

my bone country

because you

said so

Author Note:
The poem I submit here, bone country, is memoir in nature & explores ancestral connections and how the strong will of one woman can determine the future of many.  The term "bone country" refers to the land in which one's ancestors are buried.  That land, for me, is Texas.


d. ellis phelps’ poetry, art, and essays appear most recently in Texas Poetry Calendar 2020 (forthcoming); The Amethyst Review; The Enchantment of the Ordinary; The Larger Geometry:  poems for peace; Poets & Dreamers; Voices de La Luna; & The Main Street Rag, among othersShe is the author of what holds her, a book of ecstatic poetry (Main Street Rag, forthcoming, 2019); Making Room for George, a novel and of the blog formidableWoman.  She has served in an editorial capacity for twelve anthologies including most recently as managing editor for The Larger Geometry:  poems for peace (2018); Texas Hills:  an anthology of place (working title, forthcoming, Fall 2019) & Enskyment  (working title, Moon Shadow Sanctuary Press, forthcoming, 2020).  She is founder and managing editor of Moon Shadow Sanctuary Press.