Sonja James


Bardane, West Virginia: July 1933

What’s invisible sings, and we bear witness.
Rita Dove

Daisy Belle, hindered by the enormity of her eighth pregnancy,
could not reach beneath her protruding belly to wash her own feet.
She summoned twelve-year-old Virginia, who concentrated on a game of jacks.
Virginia obediently abandoned her play to fetch a basin of warm,
soapy water and a soft cloth.
She knelt by Daisy Belle, who had awkwardly sat down on a plush, blue
chair in the front parlor.
Sunlight poured through the room’s two windows.
A blazing, white halo adorned Daisy Belle’s head.
Virginia carefully unbuttoned her mother’s shoes, and with some difficulty,
removed them from Daisy Belle’s swollen ankles and feet.
After dipping the cloth in the water, she twisted it hard with both hands.
Excess water splashed into the waiting basin.
Gently and thoroughly, Virginia first washed Daisy Belle’s left foot, and then, her right.
As the grateful woman happily wiggled clean toes, Virginia smiled.
Suddenly, Daisy Belle stiffened and gasped, but Virginia continued to smile,
oblivious to Daisy Belle’s unexpected agony as the initial pangs
of yet another childbirth caught her by surprise. Growing somewhat bored,
Virginia stood up, and after tossing the soiled cloth into the now cold water, hurried away
from what would be her final kindness to her young, exhausted mother.
Leaving Daisy Belle to her lonely, barefoot vigil with destiny,
the carefree girl fled to the backyard’s open expanse.
Virginia, now liberated by birdsong and honeybee buzz,
scampered toward her favorite maple tree where two plump, stubborn squirrels
cracked hard nuts between sharp, white teeth.


Sonja James is the author of The White Spider in My Hand (New Academia Publishing/Scarith Books, 2015) and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Field, The Gettysburg Review, OmniVerse, Beloit Poetry Journal, the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and Poet Lore. She was a finalist in the 2016 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Contest sponsored by Autumn House Press. Among her honors are five Pushcart Prize nominations. She also writes a weekly poetry book review column for The Journal, a West Virginia newspaper.