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Katie Bickham.
“Widow's Walk, 1917.”

© Katie Bickham.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.

Author’s Note:

How much does place affect the people we become?  And not just the place as it is now, but the history of the place?  Do buildings and walls remember, and if so, do they speak?  And if so, are we listening?  These poems are taken from a collection called The Belle Mar: Poems. The Belle Mar is a fictional plantation in South Louisiana (loosely based on a real one called The Belle Rive). Each poem in the work takes place in a different room in the house in a different year.  All my life I have felt stretched between a deep love of my home and something very near disgust for it. Am I who I am because of Louisiana’s grim history, or in spite of it? These poems try to “squeeze the universe into a ball” (or a house), with the house itself bearing witness to the ugliness, beauty, the hatred of others, the hatred of self, and the ghosts that haunt its own walls. How have we changed? How have we failed to? If we think of our own hearts as having many chambers, many rooms, which are the ones we keep locked? Which are the ones we, ourselves, are locked inside?

Widow’s Walk, 1917

The word came that seven hundred thousand

bodies had drawn their last breaths at Verdun,

an earth-quaking number for those unacquainted

with the greedy appetites of death.

She had never been across the sea, but pictured

the corpses laid in neat rows like chopped cane

at harvest time.


“Apologies, ma’am,” came Small John’s voice

from the rear stairs.  “I’d’a sent Roberta,

but she scared fiercely of high places.

You got to come down. The sun will cook

you through.”


Five weeks her husband had been gone,

and she hadn’t even heaved a sigh until

she’d tried to fasten her silver bracelet on her own,

a task best suited to a second pair of hands.

Sweating, she gripped the chain until the metal

grew hot in her palm.


“Ma’am?” Small John tried again.  Without

turning, she could feel him moving closer.

Had he ever touched her once in these long years?

“Roberta said you in a fury.”


She turned from the iron railing and flung

the bracelet at him hard.  It hit his shoulder,

tinkled as it fell onto the slate.

He lifted it by one end like a snake

and walked toward her.  “I’d’a gone, too,”

he said.  “Over there to fight. ‘Cept I don’t

see like I ought to, and my knee ain’t right.”


He watched her as if she might bolt

over the edge, body set to lunge. Her

temper cooled quick, the way Louisiana

afternoons went from sweltering to raising

shivers on skin before a hurricane

blew in from the gulf.  “Small John?” she asked.

She held her shaking wrist out to him, her jaw

and throat and chest all gone hot and raw.


She thought he might throw it back at her,

but he looked at her straight on, barely glanced

down as he slipped the tiny teeth

of the clasp together around her wrist, never

once touched her skin.


Text prepared by:


Bickham, Katie. “Widow’s Walk, 1917.” The Belle Mar: Poems. Baton Rouge: LSU Pr., 2015. © Katie Bickham. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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