Call and Response

Call and Response: Alan Pittman and Mary Ann Bragg

 Alan Pittman. March 22, 2014. A portrait of Jesus hangs near the bell-tower rope in one of the classrooms at Valley Grove Methodist Church, Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia.

Alan Pittman. March 22, 2014. A portrait of Jesus hangs near the bell-tower rope in one of the classrooms at Valley Grove Methodist Church, Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia.

As I page through all the photographs for West Virginia I stop at one with the sort of sunlight I know. The sheers are in a living room that I know, and the white wood chair is my white wood chair. I know that picture of Jesus in a robe. The benevolence of holding a lamb. He stands among sheep that crowd and follow him. I know the elements of this photograph, and I know the symmetry. I’m drawn to them. But it is the hanging cord that makes me shudder. It’s a rope for a church bell, soft and unfrayed with a trim tassel, but honestly it is awful in its off-centeredness and the way it ends in the top third of the photograph. The rope lacks a symmetrical twin. Its darkness interrupts the light from the windows. I think of it as malevolent. It immediately takes me to what must be in the back of my mind. A hanging. A hanging of some kind, either self-inflicted or as I write it just now a hanging inflicted by someone else. But the rope is quite slender. It could not cause that much damage to another person. Surely. A female, though. It could have hung a slender female. The tensions in this photograph are many. The benevolence matched with the suggestion of malevolence, and the symmetry matched with the sole dissymmetry of the rope. What I know to be true is matched with what is unknown. There is anxiety. I struggle with what I know compared to what I want to be.

Mary Ann Bragg. Provincetown, Massachusetts. 


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: Meg Wilson and Larry D. Thacker

  Meg Wilson . August 8, 2015. Paint Lick, Garrard County, Kentucky.

Meg Wilson. August 8, 2015. Paint Lick, Garrard County, Kentucky.

I’m driving to a fire, momma. 

I hear there’s a fire on the mountain, momma.
That’s where I’m headed. Bare foot, pressing the gas
to the floor. I’ve been headed up that way for a while. 
Toward the light. The glow. Since I heard
you and daddy whispering how there ain’t nothing
out past as far as I can see. 
                                             Funny thing, though. 

You can see a little better with every little step. 
Every play mile. And I’m burning a road out for my own
way up the hill, to the very top, with my eyes and ears. 
Have been since you set the signal fires alight
In my heart. In my hands. Mostly in feet. 

Ever remember doing that? Right when I was born?

I know I was born in this house. I still see it.
I catch versions of lives mirrored back in the flames
of a bonfire some men joked and drank around
while I struggled free from your belly, momma. 
I smelled smoke. 
                            I have ever since. We all have. 

That same ground is dark with autumns of brush burnings.
With newspapers and bills. Leaves and tobacco spit.
Old toys. The black mud below is heavy spellbound
and I have a pocket full of it to take with me
over the ridge. The mud’s full of light and heat.     

I hear there’s fire all over the mountain, father. Up
where all the answers are etched in boulders.
Who spends all that time up there carving wisdom
into such stubborn earth? 
                                          Some kind of angels? 
Do they write with lighting? Is that how the fires started? 

And will they wait for me to make it up there? 
I want to meet them. I always have. But I’m moving slowly. 

I ain’t going there to put any fire out, sister. 
I’m taking my own. What I’ve hidden under our bed
these years. What’s been long out of control in this heart, unsung. 
Waterless. What’s warmed our little room on cold nights.  
When I add my own to lightning you’ll know I made it. 
You’ll know I’m up and can see over
where we’re never supposed to have gone. 
Look hard and you’ll see me waving back only to you. 
You’ll hear it happen, too. I promise. 

There’s fire in the sky, little dead brother in the ground. 
But you know that. You’ve played in air since leaving us. 
I’ve felt you swing by giggling. 
                                                  Whispering, You’re it

             I’m taking you with me, if you’ll go. 
Pack your airy things, light and sparkly like I glance you
sometimes in the branches, and sit with me. 
We have lighting to create, flame to transport, 
and fire to seek: 
                          the other side of a dark ridge to discover. 

Larry D. Thacker. Johnson City, Tennessee.


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: Roger May and Mike Murphy

  Roger May . January 25, 2014. Coal-laden railcars roll through the upper Kanawha Valley along the icy Kanawha River, just west of the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers at Glen Ferris, Fayette County, West Virginia. (First published in The Guardian on January 30, 2014.)

Roger May. January 25, 2014. Coal-laden railcars roll through the upper Kanawha Valley along the icy Kanawha River, just west of the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers at Glen Ferris, Fayette County, West Virginia. (First published in The Guardian on January 30, 2014.)

When I was a little brat I used to talk to God all the time. I’d invite him to our trailer to watch cartoons or to eat fish sticks and applesauce with me. He never showed up.

Pop came home drunk one night. He yelled, damn car knocked like hell all the way home from Lulabelle’s! The next morning, I saw a gas pump handle and six feet of hose hanging from the gas tank. Lulabelle’s is twenty miles away.

The second-grade teacher gave me the role of Jesus in our class’s Passion Play. I remember it was Easter and the grass was a neon green and the crocuses were poking up through. I was excited to play Jesus, the Son of God. Mom forgot to make a costume for me so I had to wear her cotton bathrobe over my Superman Underoos and carry a flimsy cardboard cross. The other kids fake-yelled mean things at me on the road to Golgotha through the school cafeteria. Mom’s robe kept coming open. I was humiliated and embarrassed. I figured that must be what Jesus felt like.

I’ve been with a few girls in this town. It was usually some kind of awkward-yet-exciting groping in back seats or out by the backwaters of the lake, the feel of warm flesh and rumpled fabric, random nights filled with yeses and noes and maybes. Once a girl named Missi let me feel her boob under her shirt, made me promise not to tell. I met Bant at the end of last summer. She was one of those girls you never noticed for years and then one day you see her and suddenly she’s beautiful, like a swan or a sunset. One night we lay down under the spruce trees and looked up at the mountains all around and the stars breathing down on us. Everything felt perfect.

I was sitting in the last pew in the back of the church. I watched one of the solid men of the congregation go into Preacher Dodd’s office. He was talking too loud. I could hear every word he said. I could hear him saying I hate my wife, Reverend. I hate my wife. I heard him start sobbing and blubbering. I got the hell out of there. There was something beautiful about his pain.

A kid in my class named Tommy ditched school and was jumping stones across the river when the Allegheny Power Company opened up the turbines on the dam. He tried to make it across but the rocks were slippery and the water came up fast and Tommy couldn’t swim. They dragged the river for a while but didn’t find his body until the river finally thawed in the Spring. One of the volunteer firemen who pulled Tommy out said he was caught up real snug in the roots of a willow tree and he looked just like he was sleeping. The power company paid Billy’s family five-thousand dollars. I figured that must be what a body is worth. 

Mom and Pop give me a Timex watch for graduation. We all go to Shoney’s for dinner. Bant says she’s thinking of going to college in the fall if she can save up some money. I don’t say a word. Lonnie and me have been talking about signing up for the Army Reserve. I can hear the watch ticking away on my wrist like a heartbeat ...tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, ... and it all feels somehow like we’ve just been born. 

Mike Murphy. Baltimore, Maryland.


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.