The Criterion Channel: Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)

We never grew up around the ocean, but that was never a problem for us, because the Appalachia mountains curve. You never had to imagine what waves cresting felt or looked like, because we had the hills and mountains rise and fall under our feet. Hiking was like walking on water, but you’d never say such things out loud, because your elders would whoop you with a switch and say you shouldn’t be blasphemous, but I never felt like it was taking it out on God to say he gave us good land. Growing up in the South, specifically Appalachia meant you inhaled a lot of things secondhand, but I guess that’s the case wherever you grow up. Smart folks say it’s a cultural identity, but for us it was just pride. I inhaled a lot as a young girl. Some good, some bad. All of it true. All of it sticking to me. You can still hear the twang in my voice if you really get me to talking, but I don’t talk too much about home, because people start to think things about you, and that’s the opposite of pride. But I know it’s me. The secondhand nicotine, the black lung, the blanket of sludge we’ve draped across God’s own mountains. The very grace that he gave us we’ve turned inside out looking for money, but it ain’t our fault. S’just living I suppose. Maybe black lung is God’s own little plague for us, for tearing everything up.  I was taught better than to think that way.  

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A white cotton dress really stands out when someone’s walking across a coal field. She’s like her own little angel hovering across the darkness, or a firefly piercing the night sky. But maybe she feels closer to debris. No different than a wad of paper thrown onto the grown that would float over onto concrete. Litter. That stands out too. It’s curious what images we afford a certain level of grace, but things always look nice before they’re split open. Inside she might be a little bit empty. Always does what she’s told. Nothing special about her, no talent, no education, no nothing. Maybe she’s nothing more than a body, so why does she strike such a chord if you stare at her from a distance? This woman in white. Usually when you think about white dresses images of marriage and churches and kids come into your mind. All the dreams of girls with nowhere to go, but she’s not marrying anyone right now, unless she’s planning on giving herself to this coal field. I guess there’s a divinity in that. Giving yourself to something God created. There’s this old bible verse that says you should humble yourself and be like a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven and I think about that when I see this girl drifting across that black field. I don’t remember what book it’s in, but I’ve got time to memorize the whole thing. I bet she has it memorized. It’ll be a while before I marry the dirt too. Hopefully God let’s me be someone or do something special before then. Get my name up in lights and see the big cities. Maybe let the tide wash in on a California beach and let it kiss my feet. I ain’t never felt that before. I ain’t never felt much of anything.  

For Barbara Loden. For Women who grew up in the South and wanted more.  

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