Sunday, November 19, 2006

Imagery of the South

While reading Pamela Petro's book Sitting up with the Dead: A Storied Journey through the American South, I came across a piece of particularly striking imagery. She writes about talking with Nancy Basket, a storyteller in Walhalla, South Carolina, who tells her about the Cherokee towns being drowned for reservoirs. "There are some of us... who can still hear the drums sounding underwater."

Petro relates this to her time spent in Wales, where towns were similarly drowned for reservoirs for the English. There, the story goes, you can hear chapel bells tolling underwater.

It's a bit of a triangulation, but these images reminded me of, as Jacob might say, the time I spent in Tori Amos purgatory. Amos talked in one interview I remember about hearing the bells toll in the South. One lyric to "Here. In My Head" says, "The bow and the bell, and the girl from the South, all favorites of mine, you know them all well."

Bells and drums signify multitudes for me. War drums. The bells that tolled by the quarter-hour on campus, which I could hear from my freshman dorm window if the air was still enough, which echoed ominously through the quad if you were standing in the right place when they sounded. The drum of distant thunder. The phrase "for whom the bell tolls," which I'm well aware is a book but fascinates me only as sounds, kind of exactly like "roll of thunder, hear my cry."

On the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, they call the Pascagoula River the "singing river," because of the songs of the tribal people there, who walked into its depths rather than face fate at the hands of white men. I'm drawn intimately to water as well, something we have plenty of here in the South. I could never imagine being a desert child, a Pine Belt kind of girl.

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