So large, so real, so present,
Oseola McCarty might just speak
from the Annie Leibovitz portrait
in the museum gallery.
Sweaters a kilter, hair a crown of uncontrolled
silver, she stares into the camera,
lips set, almost smiling. She stands
in Hattiesburg heat, her yard and
wood-frame house a background blur
behind her large eyes and steady gaze.
So many never’s—never finished
Eureka Elementary, never drove,
never traveled, never explored
or earned more than nine thousand
dollars each of the seventy-five
years she took in laundry before
arthritis crippled her. Washing
each dropped-off bundle, ironing,
folding, tieing up her small deposits
week after week, year after year.
And then the decision. Summoning up
from her own deprivation a vision
of determined imagination. Walking
to the bank, making the withdrawal.
The long, slow bus trip across town.
Waiting. Waiting all afternoon
to startle, to hand over one hundred
fifty thousand dollars to Southern Miss.
Waiting to speak, to give, to educate
others. Waiting with that same look
as she stands in her level yard,
her level eyes daring you to cry.
Editor’s Note: Oseola McCarty was a Southern Black woman who donated her savings to Southern Miss. University. This poem is based on her contribution and sacrifice.