Cancer Alley


Cancer AlleyThe river is not far from the graveyard that holds most of the town’s flowers as well as the bodies of the people who grew sick and died before their time. It looks like the river always has, like it did when we were children warned from its sinkholes and eddies—natural phenomena known to disappear entire pigs and, that one time, a widely loved German Shepherd.

When the glancing sun turns the water’s surface metallic, I turn my back on it and trudge the half mile home. Loofah and mirliton vines entangle the overloaded tomato plants. Birds feasting on fallen fruit caw as my approach shoos them from their questionable sustenance. Below it all is the chemical-streaked soil.

I smoke on the back steps—never in the house even now—knowing the lawyers will use it to advantage, will construct greedy taxonomies naming second-hand nicotine and lifestyle as though nothing else is true.

The humidity is as heavy as grief, but I find your basket under the steps and harvest the tomatoes that have not yet burst. Under the arbor I hide from September sun and eat almost black muscadines, one after another, because they grew from our land and because they are mine.

Photo used under CC.

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About Author


Elise Blackwell is the author of five novels, most recently The Lower Quarter. Her work has been translated into several languages, and her books have been named to numerous best-of-the-year lists, adapted for the stage, and served as the inspiration for a Decemberists’ song. She lives in the American South.

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