You should look up your ancestor, Matilda Fletcher,” my dad says over the sound of dog nails pattering across the linoleum, of dog collars being shook offering the percussive of tags clapping, of dog talk around the kitchen table from a long line of dog owners. I scratch my dad’s, a white mutt speckled with black spots. She opens her mouth in a wide grin. Her wet, pink tongue lolls to one side as I attend to the ears, neck, and chest. I glance towards my dad’s lifted chin, his hands folded across his belly, my glance the question that lets him speak. He says, “She spoke at Chautauquas while her stepchildren sang and danced. She was married to William Albert Wiseman, your great-great-great-grandfather. The one who founded the Methodist Church on Crocker by Woodland Cemetery. You know where that is, Laura.”
I nod, but I don’t really know, not really, or least, not in the way my dad knows the land, the larger Midwest area, the history. As he told the story he knew of Albert, a minster who married a woman of some fame in those years of the 1880s and followed her around the country so she could speak, I wanted to know, and that wanting gave me a topic for a slim volume of poems that became a letterpress book, that researching gave me the subject of my dissertation, and that writing and defending eventually gave me the book Queen of the Platform. As I sat with my hands full of dog cookies and the dogs crunching and chewing them to bits, leaving the little crumbs of pink and red on the floor bright with light, I listened to my dad’s voice and the way it bounced back and forth across the kitchen table, my grandpa adding in what he remembered about Albert’s son, his own grandfather—his proclivities and moods, where he worked in a back bedroom typing stories on a typewriter for a newspaper and who always “ate dessert first.”
“Why dessert, dad?” my dad asks his own. My grandpa’s eyes slide back and forth, almost as if he’s reading the air above his bifocals, scanning the space any kitchen would hold of knowledge gleaned from family lore, likely shared and passed down in such a space as this, among the copper molds, the handstitched quilts pinned to the walls, the coffee warming on a burner, the room layers in the swirls of my grandma’s cigarettes, the tendrils of them turning in the air.
“Because they’d arrive in a town at the hotel and Matilda would take all of the children straight to the restaurant and order, but the meal would take a while. They’d all order pie and eat it until dinner arrived.”
Like those in my family, I’m invested in the past, especially the stories we tell of those who once lived, the ones in myth, and lore. During Ph.D. school, girlhood, and college, I read widely for such stories and perspectives like the persona poems of Carol Simmons Oles and Natasha Tretheway, and the lush imaginings of fictitious places like those imagined by Jeneatte Winterson, Margaret Atwood, and Marge Piercy. When cahoodaloodaling asked me to serve as the guest editor, I was delighted by the opportunity. Historical (Re)Tell is a theme about which I’m passionate, because of all the wonderful writers who have and who are writing such work, and because of my dad and grandpa, the men who first told me to look up my ancestor who “spoke at Chautauquas while her stepchildren sang and danced.” I did look Matilda up, researching the life of this nearly forgotten suffragist and lecturer. I spoke recently about my research process in a cahoodaloodaling interview and a bit more about it among a panel of writers and poets at the Steel Pen Conference in Indiana this month.
cahoodaloodaling’s issue on Historical (Re)Tell features fierce writing, evocative imagery, and necessary retellings. The issue includes work that engages with the historical past by telling retelling of the historic, tales that offer what wasn’t said but should’ve been, what wasn’t written down but likely happened, whose voices speak that didn’t speak because at the time there wasn’t a platform on which for them to stand. Contributors explore aspect of myths and legends retold from other voices, new perspectives, and counterintuitive stances. Accurate, inaccurate, or close, these authors transform facts into the tales, histories, and family stories that inform how we tell our worlds. There is flash here that retells a story of Sisyphus, an essay that explores the Jewish people of Bessemer, Alabama, a poem that meditates on traditions in marriage, flash on sex-work during Nazi Germany, a persona poem on Freud, and an interview on researching the treatment and care of those in insane asylums at the turn of the century. I’m indebted to the hard work of the editors and readers of cahoodaloodaling, work that made such an issue possible. I’ve been asked by the editorial board to offer a trigger warning. Some of this work is startling and hard to face. It’s work that resists the ways some might want to cast the past.
It is because of my own work editing an anthology of writing about gender violence, that I’ve selected “The Hired Man” by KateLynn Hibbard as the cahoodaloodaling issue spotlight. “The Hired Man” is a poem of resistance, a resistance to gender violence, and the silence around violence against women done by men. Such poetry of resistance is necessary because it offers alternative narratives that are dangerous and subversive, narratives that critique violence myths that continue to perpetuate stereotypes. Such work does more than speak to power. It resists abuses of power. It enables a writer to claim power over stories that may be missing from the historical record and invites readers to trouble narratives told about the past.
This is but some of the work in the Historical (Re)Tell issue. I hope you will join me in thinking about the past, the stories we tell, and the stories we might begin to (re)tell by reading cahoodaloodaling’s 18th issue.
Continue on to our spotlight piece, “The Hired Man” by KateLynn Hibbard.