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About this poet

On September 12, 1946, Minnie Bruce Pratt was born September in Selma, Alabama, and grew up in Centreville. She attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her books of poetry include The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry; Walking Back Up Depot Street (1999), which was named book of the year by ForeWord magazine in the Gay/Lesbian category and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry; Crime Against Nature (1990), which was chosen as the Academy of American Poets' Lamont Poetry Selection, received the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award for Literature; We Say We Love Each Other (1985); and a chapbook, The Sound of One Fork (1981).

For five years she was a member of the editorial collective of Feminary: A Feminist Journal for the South, Emphasizing Lesbian Visions. Together with Elly Bulkin and Barbara Smith, she co-authored Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives On Anti-Semitism and Racism (1988), which has been adopted for classroom use in hundreds of college courses. In 1991 Pratt was chosen, along with lesbian writers Chrystos and Audre Lorde, to receive a Lillian Hellman-Dashiell Hammett award given by the Fund for Free Expression. In 1992 her book of autobiographical and political essays, Rebellion: Essays 1980-1991 (1991), was a finalist in nonfiction for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her book of prose stories about gender boundary crossing, S/HE (1995), was one of five finalists in nonfiction for the 1995 American Library Association Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award, as well as one of three finalists for the Firecracker Award in nonfiction. Pratt has also been granted a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In spring 2000 she was a Community Writer-in-Residence for the YMCA National Writer's Voice Program, and from 2002-2003 she was the Jane Watson Irwin Chair in Women's Studies at Hamilton College. Pratt lives with writer and activist Leslie Feinberg in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Red String

Minnie Bruce Pratt, 1946
          At first she thought the lump in the road
          was clay thrown up by a trucker's wheel.
          Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers.


Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring
at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.
Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed
their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.

It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed
and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,
creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.


          Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed
          as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded
          themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.
          Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power
          to split     the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless
          horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,
          saying, We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!


                    Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice
                    or limp or mended boots but said nothing, let the marchers
                    pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other
                    lives down ravines, to save their skins another night
                    from the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,
                    who wait by the grave for the body's return to the earth.

                    Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums,
                    watched a beast face flicker in the starry green leaves.
                    Then they burned the tree.


                                                  Smoke from their fires
still lay over the land where Beatrice travelled.


Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,
voices from a place where women's voices never stop:


                    They took my boy down by Sucarnochee creek.
                    He said, "Gentlemen, what have I done?" 
                    They says, "Never mind what you have done. 
                    We just want your damned heart." After they
                    killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out
                    by him all night until the neighbors came
                    in the morning. I was standing there when
                    they killed him, down by Sucarnochee creek. 

                    I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting
                    scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks
                    on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed
                    where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me
                    out into the field so that the blood strung across
                    the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,
                    in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went
                    back into my house and ate the food on the stove.
                    They have drove me from my home. It is over
                    by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.

              I had informed of persons whom I saw
              dressing in Ku-Klux disguise;
              had named the parties. At the time
              I was divorced from Dr. Randall
              and had a school near Fredonia. 
              About one month before the election
              some young men about the county
              came in the night-time; they said
              I was not a decent woman; also
              I was teaching radical politics.
              They whipped me with hickory withes.
              The gashes cut through my thin dress,
              through the abdominal wall.
              I was thrown into a ravine
              in a helpless condition. The school
              closed after my death.


From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew
toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening
while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:


              Child, what have you been up to while we
              were trying to keep body and soul together? 

              But never mind that now. Here's what you must do: 

              Tie a red flannel string around your waist. 
              Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember
              your past, and ours. Always remember who you are. 
              Don't let those men fool you about the ways of life
              even if blood must sign your name. 

From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

Minnie Bruce Pratt

The author of several collections of poetry, Minnie Bruce Pratt's book The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems received the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry

by this poet

poem
It's at dinnertime the stories come, abruptly,
as they sit down to food predictable as ritual.
Pink lady peas, tomatoes red as fat hearts
sliced thin on a plate, cornbread hot, yellow
clay made edible. The aunts hand the dishes
and tell of people who've shadowed them, pesky
terrors, ageing reflections that peer
poem
Rush hour, and the short order cook lobs breakfast
sandwiches, silverfoil softballs, up and down the line. 
We stand until someone says, Yes? The next person behind
breathes hungrily. The cashier's hands never stop. He shouts:
Where's my double double? We help. We eliminate all verbs.
The
poem
He was her guide. He lived in hell. Every day he thought
he was dead. Years after he's died, she thinks it's him stumbling
drunk through the subway turnstile. Just the two of them
on the platform. He asks her for money, pennies for passage:


          In the nursing home, a palsied woman guards the door