Minnesota Poetry: Laressa Dickey’s “Smoke, Spit, Chew”

Laressa Dickey’s poems appear in numerous journals and are included in the anthologies Life in Body: Writings from the House of Mercy and Sierra Songs & Descants: Poetry and Prose of the Sierra. She is a poet, dancer and teacher who works with diverse communities to increase access to movement and writing. She grew up on her family’s tobacco farm in rural Tennessee amidst tall poplars. Here’s her prose poem “Smoke, Spit, Chew.”

SMOKE, SPIT, CHEW

Tobacco. What leaves, tannins. Grandma smoked it unfiltered. Daddy grew it like the rest of our neighbors. In the summers, if I was lucky, I got to ride the setter instead of following behind to cover the plant with dirt and stand it up straight. What hurt was my back afterward from standing and bending, standing and bending. I took long breaks, tried to stay in the shade as long as I could before my Daddy found me, lazing around. Daddy helped Kenny set his tobacco. And Joe. And Joe and Kenny helped him. And all the women and children too. Some running around and some wishing for other things. I remember the oak tree’s fingers above my mid-day eyes, the line of green that separated the dirt field from the fencerow. For a 4-H project, my brother and I raised a half-acre ourselves. Daddy got sick spraying tobacco for the budworm. He puked his guts out almost and somebody took him to the hospital. They gave him saline flush and other things. A cash crop, right.

- “Smoke, Spit, Chew” by Laressa Dickey. Reprinted here with permission from the author. Dickey had this to say about the poem:

My dad raised tobacco for the first 10 or so years of my life, so the cycles of my childhood were marked by the growth cycles (of all growing things, but mostly tobacco). It was such an amazing process to watch and then to be a part of because much our small community came together to help each other, and frankly, it’s a lot of work! The harsh chemical process really impacted my dad’s body every summer. The poem is a small attempt to honor the complicated web of feelings I have about tobacco growing, about making a living off the land, about being a part of a working community–while also being an imaginative, idealistic and impressionable girl.

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