Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The British Colonel fighting at Breach Inlet in the late 1700s wrote of alligators, spiders “as big as my coat buttons,” rattlesnakes, “nothing to drink but brackish water”—we read it on the commemorative plaque before running back across the road to the boat to head out, leaving Sullivan’s Island, sailing across the harbor, past the curve of Charleston’s battery.

Rough palmettos and changing leaves, expanses of yellow marsh, no movement except that of the sea birds, a vulture circling on an updraft. This is the verge of the New World.

At Brickyard Creek, there’s a loop of houses, small outpost of development—half are empty or for sale. There’s an old cemetery across the road. We walk up to a grave—Bolden, the name is. “I want to see a dead person,” Tallulah says.

I think of Buddy Bolden and his loud, loud cornet bursting from the bandstand at Lincoln Park, echoing all the way down to Canal Street. Years later, holding an instrument donated to the asylum, he played breaking notes that sounded like mown grass, like sweat and cheap perfume, like barbershop bravado, which recalled boys with dented brass that had come up the river from Asomante and Santiago, shouting for pure joy.

I tell her there’s nothing but bones down there, the woman’s been buried since 1926. “I want to see it,” she insists. Spanish moss hangs from the low limbs of the oak trees. The graves are scattered haphazardly, overgrown with weeds—one still a mound of earth, though the man died a year ago. I wonder why the gray dirt hasn’t melted into the grass. I don’t want to go near the little lambs on the headstones.

Walking back, Tallulah gathers fine sand at the road’s edge—stops and spreads her arms wide, chanting an incantation to some god she’s created, letting the sand fall from her fingers and smiling up at the moonlit sky.

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