Oyster Boy Review 18  
  Winter 2003–4
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Beyond the Water Dance, by L. Teresa Church

Reginald Harris

Beyond the Water Dance.
L. Teresa Church.
LTC Publications, 2002.
34 pages, $9 (paperback).

Like words whispered to a wind-child,
Time talks to me, stirs me up,
Tells me where to find my fortune,
As I dig down decades-deep
Into diamond-hard dirt
When corduroy roads lead me
Back to the homeplace

                        ("Piecing Yesterdays for Today and Tomorrow")

There are plenty of "traditional southern flavors" to be found in L. Teresa Church's second chapbook. Honeysuckle and Mississippi moonlight, quilts, and "Aunt Sue's / 'Two-timin' sweet tater pie'" permeate Beyond the Water Dance like early morning fog. The poems, however, are not mere exercises in sentiment or nostalgia. Church's poems are tough works, fully embracing the memory-poet's calling to act as Witness. Mixing tourist-friendly seaside images and washed-out history with memories of the arrival of African slaves in "Historical Marker at Sullivan's Island," she writes, "THIS IS SULLIVAN'S ISLAND / A place where . . . // I must not / Forget."

L. Teresa Church does not forget. For every positive recollection there appears also its opposite, imperfect side of reality as well: the loving song of "Daddy's Girls" ("A spring-water spirit, / my father out-bubbled / chilled champagne"), for example, made all the more haunting by these lines from "Sadder Day Mournings":

I wait up with ice water
To sprinkle my daddy sober,
Pull him in the house
Like some well-kept secret.

Born and raised in rural Virginia, poet, playwright, quilt-maker and librarian, L. Teresa Church is also a member of the influential Raleigh-based Carolina African American Writer's Collective. Blessed and cursed by memory, as a poet she is compelled to tell all, and does so with delicacy and beauty. One finishes Beyond the Water Dance nourished, enlightened, filled—and hungry for just a little more.