Who Shall Know Them?

In 1936, Walker Evans took a series of photographs documenting the everyday lives of sharecropper families in rural Alabama. These photographs were taken for the Farm Security Administration and are now in the Library of Congress. Inspired by those richly textured images, Faye Kicknosway creates an imaginative story that brings each photograph to life in new and startling ways. Faces speak, odors and colors emerge, and whole painful lives are re-created in short, jagged lines that mimic the speech of these impoverished but dignified people.

If the camera is unyielding in its search for vivid details, so too is Kicknosway. In “I Don’t Know Her” (based on Evans’ photograph “Bud Field and His Family, Hale County, Alabama, Summer 1936”), she notes the wooden walls, the handkerchief on the man’s neck, the grandmother’s new shoelaces, the bug bites and drooping slip of the wife. In other poems, she evokes the smell of kerosene, bedclothes, and old porches. Images of dust motes, weeds, flies, grasshoppers, and the all-powerful sun occur repeatedly. In “Her Name,” she brings this fascination with the external world to a peak by meditating on wood in all its forms, as finished walls, floors, tables, and boxes--and as free-standing oak, maple, elder, sycamore, and cedar.

Yet, it is the internal world of feelings and dreams that makes these poems memorable. As a contemporary woman, Kicknosway empathizes with these overworked, underfed...

(The entire section is 467 words.)