Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Sweetgrass Baskets Come Back Home

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Sweetgrass Baskets Come Back Home

Article excerpt

Mrs. Rosalee lives a long lineage of African artistry

along the shimmering coastline of South Carolina

aqua-blue Atlantic waves splash a monotonous refrain;

her smooth dark hands break bulrush and crop sweetgrass

like a well-oiled machine

like the lapping vibration essence, she endures

slowly drifting she is white foam breaking

against shifting sandy shores of

Mt. Pleasant where she was born

half a century ago.

Mrs. Rosalee's mama, seagrass basket weaver

sewed complex palmetto leaf patterns

her father and MaRose before her

shared mixed variations

coiling rhythms of Sierra Leone

passed down through

metal stitching tools called bones

nimble fingers plucked bones

twirling through blades of grass

fashioning baskets for roadside stands:

for the wheat and potatoes

for crawfish and tomatoes

for the corn and cotton

each ancestor, in passing, bequeathed weaving tools:

flattened nails or silver spoon handles

worn smooth by long hours.

Mrs. Rosalee talks to her grandchildren

about the old days when they keep still

they sew with tinted green

or beige strands pinched and pulled between

brown fingers plucking silver handles

weaving empty flower pots

and place mats, mixing in long leaf pine needles

slithers of green upon brown strands,

strips symmetrically coiled into identical braids;

fanner baskets for the rice so when

children are grown they'll understand

and without pause winnow the chaff. …

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