We Are More Than Our Past
August 21, 2019
Essayist Michael Ramos reflects on a photograph by Southbound artist Lucinda Bunnen. As part of our Call & Response series in conjunction with Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South, we’ve asked artists, writers, and poets to respond to a photograph of their choice in the form of short written pieces.
By Michael Ramos
This is the real south, isn’t it?
All rust and decay, a fenced-in collection of humid days and sun-baked junk overgrown and unkempt, its glory days long past. You can almost hear the hum of the heat beetle, the growl of a guard dog defending its precious Dixie, oblivious to its disrepair keeping everyone out, even those who don’t want in.
An outsider’s fantasy, a caricature of the south and all it implies. Dismissed in as much time as it takes to snap a photograph, the south captured, and then forgotten.
I, too, am an outsider, southerner by geography not birth. I, too, see the south in images, a collection, a jumble, decrepit and decaying, derisive of Dixie.
But I live here. Pass by here. What if we stop here a while?
What if the dogs, wary from years of passersby throwing rocks at chain link, at junk, at the past, at them allow us to pass, to examine the debris of times long gone? Feel damp tongues and hot breath on our hands, sniffing us out, our intentions. Wagging tails at would-be friends.
Would they lead us to their favorite things? A rusted tractor tire, gritty and rough? A bone amongst the bric-a-brac? Would we trace our fingers over the chalky, faded curves of Dixie and try to understand? Would we find stories of value, of worth, and of love amongst the stories of pain and past?
Would we hear black voices and white voices and the slow soft southern drawl nursed on porch swings and someone somewhere shelling peas say we are more than our past, more than what we seem?