Call and Response

Call and Response: George Etheredge and David Joy

  George Etheredge . December 4, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

George Etheredge. December 4, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

When dinner is served, she sees venison tenderloin seared rare in cast iron and sliced into thin medallions. She sees morels cut lengthwise from cap to stem, the mushrooms hollow as caves, cooked tender in butter brought just to the point of smoking. She sees mashed potatoes whipped with heavy cream, asparagus broiled crisp at their crowns with a thin drizzle of olive oil.

When dinner is served, she sees deer cubesteak dipped in egg wash, rolled in yellow corn meal, and fried golden in hot oil. She sees green beans cooked low on the stove all day with onions and streaked meat sharing the pot. She sees the tomato that hung on the vine by the driveway that morning when she left for work, the fruit now picked and cut, sprinkled with salt and pepper. She sees a cake of cornbread wrapped in a checkered dishcloth to keep it just warm enough that it will still melt butter when she cuts her triangle and makes her plate. 

When it’s early spring and the hill behind the house is covered with ramps, she sees meatloaf. In summer, she sees street tacos made simple like the Honduran woman who owns the food truck just down the road makes them—corn tortillas filled with meat, white onion, cilantro, and a spritz of fresh lime. I make ours with meat that I cut from the bone and canned in mason jars and we eat them on the porch in our rocking chairs with Coronas, Modelos, Estrada Jaliscos, the bottles sweating in our hands as the lightning bugs start to blink on the wood line. 

Sometimes the leaves have the mountains afire and sometimes there is snow on the ridgeline and sometimes she walks into the house and is overcome by the smell of what has been simmering since the night before and she pulls the lid off the pot and sees a stew that started with bone stock and mirepoix—carrots, celery, and onion—finished with canned venison and kale, so hearty that it could float a car.

 What she will not see is what came before. She will not see what I cannot stop seeing, what I remember when I take a bite and close my eyes: 

Fifteen feet up a hickory, I watch a tree line at the edge of a clear cut. I hear heavy footsteps and ease around the right side of the tree for a look and there he stands. The buck walks to my left and I slip behind the trunk, shoulder the rifle, and balance the fore end on a tree step I’ve augured into the opposite side for a rest. 

The deer is broadside when I slide the crosshairs onto his shoulder. The clear cut is too rough to track and drag, strewn with downed timber and studded with sawn stubs, so that I do not want to risk a shot for heart and lungs and have the deer run a hundred yards. I want to drop him where he stands. Pin his shoulders together and buckle him. 

Just before the deer strolls behind a cedar sapling I touch the trigger and the .308 shatters the morning. A hundred and fifty grains of copper jacketed lead hit just behind the shoulder and bloodshot the backside to pudding. 

The buck stoops forward and sprints, back legs driving him over tangled ground. He makes it forty yards before he crashes. From my stand, I can just make out the white of his stomach through the brush. I watch his ribs rise with each breath, that breathing slowing, slowing, then gone. 

There is a sadness that only the hunter knows, a moment when lament overshadows any desire for celebration. Life is sustained by death, and though going to the field is an act of taking responsibility for that fact, even though this deer will feed us for the year, the killing is not easy nor should it be. 

As we eat, I remember the killing and I remember the not killing. I remember the first deer that I ever saw in the woods, how I was set up directly on a game trail and how that young doe walked so close that I could’ve reached my hand out and touched her, how I was absolutely amazed that if I was still enough, I could disappear. 

I remember the days when I saw nothing but squirrels and the days that I saw nothing and wished I’d seen squirrels and the days that I saw everything but squirrels—one time a cooper’s hawk that came out of nowhere and snatched a cardinal from a limb, the hawk flying away with a fistful of red as if it carried a poinsettia in its talons. 

I remember the man who first handed me a knife and told me where to cut. I remember every bit of this moment, every last detail, from running the blade around the bottom joint of the deer’s hindlegs to the way the air smelled of pine needles and viscera to the way the sunlight filtered through the trees in bars. I taste this on my tongue as I chew that first bite and swallow. 

My dinner plate is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. I see it as a miracle. It is as if I have uttered the words of a prayer and those words have been answered. This is what I wish I could show her. 

David Joy. Jackson County, North Carolina.

Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Stephen Speranza and Taylor Kigar

  Stephen Speranza . June 2, 2015. Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Stephen Speranza. June 2, 2015. Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The air was a potent mix of fried dough and animal shit. Cornstalks swayed at the end of the parking lot as Celeste applied a fifth coat of mascara to her fake eyelashes. She checked her lip liner one last time before snapping the compact mirror shut.

It was 7 o’clock and August was breathing dry heat like a hay fever. The sun pummeled down. So many people back home discredited summer in the North, but she learned it wasn’t something to fuck around with. It knew what it was doing.

The dust stirred around her ankles and the county fair banner curled limp in the hot wind. Greasy machinery snarled in echoes across the lot, dripping down the metal skeletons. Conveyor belts hummed, gears chewed into other gears. Lovers kissed in public.

She waited in a line that wound around the Tilt-A-Whirl, next to the booths with the local Republican candidates, red and blue buttons shining slick above their watery eyes, their starched collars. They eyed her as they straightened their ties and whispered to one another. She gave them the middle finger with her eyes and ordered a 20 oz. diet coke and a corndog. The soundless exchange of dollar bills creased in all the wrong places, hands with dirty fingernails, half moon cuticles shredded around the edges. Was there a rodeo here? She wandered over to the taller rides, thinking of young men in tight denim, their thighs gripped hard onto horses.

A couple cut in front of her. The girl’s blonde hair wound around her sweating neck in a French braid and she flecked her tongue at a swirled vanilla ice cream cone, the boy’s hand resting in her back pocket.
She walked on, puffing up dust, foundation melting past her cheekbones. Why did all of these rides sound like death traps—Kamikaze, Vortex, Viper, Pharaoh’s Fury.

She watched the Kamikaze for a while. The whole thing looked like two dangling legs, kicking faster, picking up momentum and teasing to the top slowly, splayed, glowing like flares against construction paper up to the tipping point, to the moment of dislocation, only to fall and start all over again.

She staggered towards the bathrooms.
The stalls were cleaner than she expected. She pushed back the flimsy plastic seat and hung her head over the rim. The back of her knees felt wet. She rested her cheek on the edge, it was cold for a second, and then a hot rush of what was left of her $6.95 was floating. The white tile was slick on her heels, covered in muddy footprints like smeared crop circles. She pushed herself away from the toilet, wiping her mouth, and leaned against the wall. The smell of bleach was heavy, they must have just mopped in here. All her senses were screaming “public pool” and the humidity made her feel like she was swimming. What’s the difference between bleach and chlorine? Are they the same thing? Why did she even come here? It’s funny the crowds you cling to when you spend most your time alone. Her nose was burning now and she was underwater again. Dark red swimming trunks and a large t-shirt she insisted on wearing even in the pool. She could still hear them shouting, calling names. It echoed down through the blue water and she sat at the bottom, watching everyone tiptoe across the deep end. She could’ve just stayed down there forever. Her lungs burned. She let herself float back to the surface.
Night claimed the fairgrounds and everything flared with a new, wild sheen. The smoke from the barbeque pits made mirages of the ferris wheel.

The west end was quieter and lined with tents. She tried her hand at some of the games. She had a pretty good arm but they always glued down those milk bottles anyway. Someone half muffled a familiar slur behind her and she turned to find a man in a lime green tracksuit staring, spry chest hairs curling over the zipper. He took a bite of the elephant ear that drooped over the paper plate in the crook of his arm and whistled. She took her last baseball and beamed it at his leg.

She needed to get away fast because he was pissed and limping towards her. The closest ride without a line was the Musical Swing Starflyer, so she ducked beneath the metal bars and let the attendant with the tired eyes and halitosis strap her in. She mumbled prayers to god hastily, hoping the ride didn’t go upside down.

The music started, some crackling carnival tune infused with country rock. The speakers were old. The giant twelve-pointed star slid up the pole and pulled them all with it. She held the chains on either side of her tightly, preparing for the worst. As it rose further and began to spin, the swings flared outwards until the star above her was a blur of firecrackers and lightning. The wind blew back her thin hair and dried her skin of the sweat from the bathroom.

The crowd below teemed into some deliberate design. Lines wound around trash cans and everyone shuffled forward at the same steady rate. She saw the man in the tracksuit yelling into his cell phone, his wife holding a stuffed polar bear almost as big as she was. Celeste ached for her. Her mother probably didn’t raise her to have too many opinions, and she’d follow around that scumbag for the rest of her life, keeping the kitchen clean, ironing his khakis, scrubbing their bathtub. Chlorinating the above-ground pool.

Beyond the last tents, she could see the moon. Something like hardened cream. Like dried ivory soap. Her hands were aching and she looked at her palms to find blood. Eight fingernail marks dug deep into the skin, dripping just a little. She brought her palms to her mouth and the metallic taste washed over her tongue. The Starflyer kept spinning.

Taylor Kigar. Chicago, Illinois.

Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Kristian Thacker and Nichole Dobo

  Kristian Thacker . June 1, 2015. The faint trail of a deer that had been feeding in this field earlier in the morning. Fort Hill, Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Kristian Thacker. June 1, 2015. The faint trail of a deer that had been feeding in this field earlier in the morning. Fort Hill, Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Watch for the fawns

When we turn onto the lane, my two-year-old daughter calls out to me from the backseat.

“We are in the forest!”

This dirt road, with holes filled in with shale from the strippins, takes us to my grandparent’s house deep in the mountains of rural, western Pennsylvania. As we near the farmhouse we come to the hayfields. As a teenager, I’d stand on a rickety hay wagon here and lift compact square bales off the machine pulled by my grandad’s tractor. Sometimes, the whole operation would shut down for a bit when he’d discover a new fawn with bright white spots and soft hooves. It would be nestled in the tall grass, staring up at us, unafraid.

My daughter hasn’t seen a fawn yet. She isn’t of this place. I grew up here. Then I went to college, moved away and became a writer in the city. It’s the place where I can make enough money to pay my bills and send my child to the kind of school where she won’t be bullied for reading too many books, asking too many questions or being different. And yet. My heart aches for all she will miss. She won’t learn all I know. She won’t live near our enormous family. 

I’ve been gone nearly 15 years. But I still know how to tend to a coal furnace, make dilly beans, raise a hog and safely carry a gun. None of this seems immediately useful anymore, but the bigger lessons -- my ability to make something from nothing and to persist -- carried me to the place I am now. I have a good job and so does my husband. My daughter will go to preschool this fall that costs a sum that makes me feel faint. But in this place I am in now, in the city, I will always be seen as different, one of “those people,” when I tell people I meet where I am from. After Trump, and that J.D. Vance memoir that city people seem to think is a textbook, Appalachia has suddenly become all the rage. Exotic. People ask me if I can explain everything about everyone, everywhere in these vast hills. 

What do I even know, really? I’ve been away so long. And, more to the point, can anyone really explain everything about everyone in any place? 

I do what I can. I explain how people are not the familiar caricatures. But there are problems. Some are familiar to me. Others are new. Too many people are milling around at the gas station at noon, glassy-eyed and wearing dirty pajama pants. A few years ago my great aunt invited someone in for a cup of hot tea, and she was tied to her kitchen faucet and robbed. The man was looking for money to buy his next fix. It was winter, and she remained tied up overnight, alone. The untended coal fire dimmed and she was so, so cold. She survived, a testament to our hardy pioneer stock, which traces back to before the American Revolution. But this isn’t the kind of thing we should have to endure.

Is it my responsibility to move home and try to fix it? Fight the so-called war on drugs. Push the school board to improve the education. Repopulate our dwindling church with children I bring into this world. I type those words on a page and then delete them because I know how they will be received. I know the correct answers. I’m not special. I complain too much. I am ungrateful. I am no longer who I once was, and I do not belong. I am a flatlander, a braggart, an interloper. And, worse yet, I tend to write about things that are better kept private. 

Who do I think I am, anyway? 

I know this much: My daughter will still come here for Christmas and sit on a bear skin rug by the twinkling tree. She will learn to gather, prepare and crack black walnuts. She will start a fire with sticks she gathered. She will pick blueberries, so blue they are black, warm from the sun, juicy and sweet-tart, and nothing like the kind we can buy in the city. She will sleep in a farmhouse that has been in my family for generations on a piece of land that has been in our name for even longer. We no longer make hay here, the cows are long gone, but I can still teach my girl to watch for the fawns.

My daughter will not be of this place, but she will know of this place. I hope that is enough.

Nichole Dobo. New York, New York.

Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.