I have been reading around more in Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It’s a pretty odd book, as I said, about the time he and the photographer Walker Evans stayed a month or so visiting off and on three sharecropper families (all white) in Hale County, Alabama in 1936. Oddly, while there are people in the book—the members of these families—Agree spends a lot of time describing the objects that surrounded them, and not much at all of their actions, or feelings or attitudes.
There’s a whole section on overalls for example, what they look like, when they are new and when they are old and what they feel like when you wear them especially when it’s hot and you don’t wear a shirt under them. And their shoes which the men sometimes slit open along the sides to get some air to their feet. He also describes their houses. There’s a good bit about what can be found under one of their porches.
There in the chilly and small dust which is beneath porches, the subtle funnels of doodlebugs whose teasing, of a broomstraw, is one of the patient absorptions of kneeling childhood, and there, in that dust and the damper dust and the dirt, dead twigs of living, swept from the urgent tree, signs, and relics: bent nails, withered and knobbed with rust; a bone button, its two eyes torn to one; the pierced back of an alarm clock, greasy to the touch; a torn fragment of pictured print; an emptied and flattened twenty-gauge shotgun shell, its metal green, lettering still visible; the white tin eyelet of a summer shoe; and thinly scattered, the desiccated and the still soft excrement of hens, who stroll and dab and stand, shimmying, stabbing at their lice, and stroll out again into the sun as vacantly as they departed it.
Well, that brings back some memories since I diddled with those doodlebugs myself in the dust under Grandma Tingle’s backporch. And as I recollect too it was a wonder to drag your fingers though the fine dust since you never knew what you might come up with: like a bottle cap maybe or a nail or bolt or something.
Once recently visiting back there, I took a Prince Albert can out from under the side of Grandma Tingle’s place as a keepsake.
Honestly, though, I don’t remember the chickens strolling under Grandma’s house.