Call and Response

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.