HomeSouthern VoiceHymn Below Sea-Level

Hymn Below Sea-Level

by Katie Bickham

Glory to the Delta, the unraveling
thrown open river,
the godriver
prayed after in dry season, feared in flood.
Glory to sugarcane grown tall,
to high cotton,
to river roads made white.

Glory to rocking chairs rocked
by creaking knees,
to granddaddies,
to their hand tools,
their handkerchiefs,
their shoe polish kits,
their old Bibles and army tattoos,
their cheeks puffed with tobacco.
Glory to the wooden front porch elders,
the sun-fried elders,
the rain-born elders,
the sock-darners,
the story-makers,
the passers-on of all things.

Extol with bent knees the Louisiana lilt,
the Mundy Chusdie Windsdies,
the fixin tos, ya yas, the reckonin’s of long lives.

Glory to grits in the highest,
to cayenne, the beer and the water
that can’t relieve its burn.
Glory to daddies
peeling crawfish for babies,
baiting hooks for daughters,
rubbing dirt on skinned knees,
erecting tree forts in cypress.
Glory to cooks
who learned from their mothers,
the beignets, the boudin,
hushpuppies, okra, sweet tea,
the mayhaws, the bread pudding
with bourbon sauce.
Glory to bourbon.

Praise and glory to the generation
who remembers momma’s lessons
in hemming dresses, making batter,
who forgets momma’s lessons
on colored folks, on house maids,
whose children won’t hear them
from her.
Glory to shame,
to cracked raw remembering,
to mopping and mowing the stage
of our shame.

Glory to hurricanes,
to lives laid level by weather,
to graves above ground,
to the levies and sandbags,
to the folks
who never moved someplace else.

With hearts flattened in reverence,
give honor and glory, most high praise
to jazz.
To jazz played in streets,
to jazz homemade from washtubs,
from spoons, hundred-year-old horns.
Glory be to the blues
from a southern man’s soul.

Glory be to the blues
from a southern man’s soul.
Glory be to the ache
that no songs can console.

Glory to heat,
to sweat,
to linen in breezes,
to molten nights with air you can chew.
Glory to sunburn
salt skin
childhoods in sprinklers, under fans.

Glory to riverboats,
dice rolling, card playing,
to professional sin
straight from the Bible belt.

Glory to simple sin,
to sneaked sips of moonshine,
to feel-ups in hammocks,
to skinnydips in bayous,
to stolen watermelons.

Give all the glory to the sunken place,
the red boiling center,
the street cars,
the way your mouth goes all drowsy,
the slow pace of old lovers dancing,
when you say it out loud.


Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Katie Bickham is proud to enter a rich cultural tradition of distinctly Southern verse.  After earning her Master’s of Liberal Arts from Louisiana State University, Katie began attending Stonecoast, the University of Southern Maine’s nationally ranked MFA in Creative Writing program.  Despite traveling and studying away from the great state of Louisiana, Katie clings stubbornly to her accent and her abiding love of home.  She is proud to have had work published with Frost

The Names of Things
Helen Keller In Love
  • christy / April 26, 2012

    This poems brings to eyes, mouth , ears,nose,touch and memory such a vivid description of all that ia truly Southern. The flow of phrase and grouping of stanzas is gentle yet true. Poem conjures up wonderful mind pictures for me.
    Thank you Katie

  • suzi / March 16, 2013

    Nice .._enjoyed. Knew your mom in college