Sarah Browning


The Walton Mountain Museum
Schuyler, Virginia

The board game, John Boy’s earnest face
huge in the foreground, the Christmas
album, all seven children, Ma, Pa, Grandma,
Grandpa, holly garlands. Lunch box. Thermos.
Three TV Guide covers. Model truck, very rare.
Dolls, each in its plasticine box, each in its overalls:
Jim Bob, Jason, Ben. I had forgotten Jason,
forgotten Ben. Forgotten even Mary Ellen–
those faces come back to me, John Boy’s first sex
on Walton Mountain, his sunburnt butt. And I almost
blush for my child self, how much I remember that episode,
John Boy, writing poems, gazing out at the Virginia night.
Good night, Ma. Good night, Pa. Good night, John Boy.
My friend Alison mocked me for crying at The Waltons,
the rising melody, swelling Hollywood chords, parents
who loved each other and only argued over the big questions–
sex, racism, one child’s coveting the simple toy of another,
resolved in one hour, including commercial breaks,
didn’t rage over 45 years. Who wouldn’t cry? The hugs,
tender glances, Earl Hamner, Jr. weaving my parallel
childhood from his own nostalgia, while sipping brandy
in his Hollywood den. Is it fair, Earl, all these even-handed adults,
all this love flooding back into the last scene? No one goes to bed
resentful or full of racist hate or wanting to flee to Hollywood,
seven children in love with the mountain, one another, Grandpa–
Will Geer, working again, freed from the Black List
and happy for it, I’m sure, everyone getting rich, the show
at #1 for years, despite opening against Flip Wilson
and the Mod Squad, so that now, Earl, the people still
come to Schuyler, where the soapstone plant closed
generations ago and the population shrank to 600.
Your youth’s on display: in the yearbook–
the only boy in a graduating class with 16 girls–
you’re frowning, not one of them for you. Do you
remember, or has Richard Thomas’ sunburnt butt
crowded out your own? And what’s an authentic
childhood anyway: the hours I spent each week in fear
that my father’s fist might slam the dining room table,
hours spent dreading my mother’s pinched and silent look,
or the one hour I spent each week with Mary Ellen, Elizabeth,
Jason, whom I’d forgotten, Ben, whom I’d forgotten–
one hour each week when the music rose, violins soared,
I could cry, and the grownups took care of things.

Sarah Browning is the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007) and coeditor of DC Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House, 2004). She is the recipient of an artist fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, a Creative Communities Initiative grant, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. Co-director of DC Poets Against the War and Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Browning is spending this year in Italy.


Published in Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2009.


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Browning's Intro to The Wartime Issue: Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2006
Sarah Browning: DC Places Issue
Sarah Browning: Split This Rock Issue
Sarah Browning: Tenth Anniversary Issue
Sarah Browning on DC Poets Against the War: Literary Organizations Issue
Sarah Browning: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
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