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Rowan Oak


“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” –William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun


Under beaded lights strung from cedar to cedar,
we dine on low-country oysters: briny and delicate,

salty flesh floating in large shells, shucked and sucked.
Roasted sweet potatoes and spinach salad on the side of this

communal meal celebrating labor: the cooks, the servers, the growers,
the wild harvest, how the fondness of a place triggers nostalgia

and melancholy. On this night, we tread on Southern soil
at Rowan Oak, the grand estate where Faulkner wrote

about post-bellum Mississippi. We sit near
his mammy’s quarters. Like history, it is in plain view.

Eighty years before Faulkner, the enslaved who lived
and labored here built the university that now owns this space—

a constant reminder that the past is never past.
We drink wine, listen to laughter all night, which sounds

like indifference. The remaining oysters are stirred into a stew,
the kind of dish we made for ourselves, adding what remained

to heavy cream, the grace of salt and pepper. Praise every
complicated bite. Each spoonful becomes a memorial, a reckoning.



January Gill O’Neil is an associate professor at Salem State University, and the author of Rewilding (2018), Misery Islands (2014), and Underlife (2009), all published by CavanKerry Press. From 2019-2020, she served as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts with her two children.

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