Sunday Night Journal, November 4, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, November 11, 2018

52 Poems, Week 45: Bridge Morning (Sally Thomas)


The child outside the swinging door
Heard her mother say,
I won't make something of myself
Stuck at home all day.

Honey, said a languid voice,
Some days I'm so depressed
By toilet bowls and groceries
I almost can't get dressed.

Another friend remarked, I told
My husband that, I said,
'Lanier, you hear me out. I am
Too young to feel this dead.'

I saw my doctor, cried a third.
He said to me, 'Miz Wade,
You get a little job and leave
That child home with the maid.'

All the while, the pattering cards
Were shuffled, dealt, and drawn.
Ice rattled in the glasses. Outside,
S.E. mowed the lawn.

The child sat on her leather stool
Behind the swinging door
And watched Princetta move across
The chessboard of the floor.

Princetta's hands were black and broad,
Their palms pale-pink as lips
Before the public smile's drawn on
In red. Around her hips

White apron strings, crisscrossed and tied,
Strained as she bent to see
Light biscuits rising, and to sieve
Black silted leaves from tea.

Child, Princetta said, you scoot.
You in Princetta's way.

She backed out through the swinging door
With her heavy silver tray.


"Bridge Morning" first appeared in Modern Age and is reproduced here with the permission of the poet.


The name is pronounced "Prinsetta," by the way.

This poem is pretty close to perfect. The "pretty close" is really just a formality, a legalistic gesture of acknowledgement that nothing in this world is truly perfect. I guess it helps if you know the world depicted here, but, just as with John Betjeman's Extremely English work, I don't think it's necessary. 

That last line is what makes it, gesturing, or maybe just glancing significantly, away from the domestic scene to a wider world of injustice and tragic history--and more, discernment of which I will leave to your insight. The tray is heavy, the tray is silver: those two words do so much. And they sound so well together there, a perfect exemplar of the "sound and sense" motto. But that line only works as well as it does because everything leading up to it is so precisely convincing.

Sally Thomas--I almost said "is a real person." What I mean is that she's not a name in a book, an alleged person who wrote some poems long ago and far away, but someone who lives in the same world I do. I've never actually met her but she's a good friend of a good friend and we've met online.  Some years ago, before Facebook, when blogs were more popular and this one in particular hosted more conversation than it presently does, she sometimes commented here. 

Here is her web site. She also writes excellent fiction. This poem is from her collection Fallen Water, and if you like "Bridge Morning" I strongly recommend the book. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Sally Thomas--I almost said "is a real person." What I mean is that she's not a name in a book, an alleged person who wrote some poems long ago and far away, but someone who lives in the same world I do.

When I read Sally's work, I always think, "She's the real thing, not just somebody I know that writes."

I guess it helps if you know the world depicted here, but, just as with John Betjeman's Extremely English work, I don't think it's necessary.

I was thinking just that. It is so evocative to me. It's basically my young life, except that women had not yet begun to talk about getting jobs, and our maid didn't make good biscuits and they usually were drinking something harder than tea. I think, though, that the picture is so complete that it works even if you weren't there.

I didn't, at first, think of Bridge as the card game. Before I got to the part about the cards, I had already started thinking about the morning being a bridge from one thing to another. This conversation really is the conversation that was the bridge from the old world to the new. I don't know if that was what Sally was thinking or not.


That didn't occur to me but it works. I was imagining that if it was anything other than it's morning and they're playing bridge, that it could be something the mother says: "Wednesday is my bridge morning" or something. It also occurred to me to wonder if sometime in the next, say, hundred years or so, the poem would need a note informing the reader that bridge was a card game.

The paraphernalia is a bit more upscale than was my upbringing, too, but not much different. My mother's bridge club (which at 95 she still attends) usually met in town so I wasn't present. I can't remember ever overhearing conversations, but the voices of these ladies are familiar. :-) Though as with you the I-want-a-job spirit was I think yet to arrive.

I very much agree that it works even if you don't have experience of the milieu, but it certainly adds to the effect if you do.

The swinging door. It seems to me that almost everyone had a swinging door in the kitchen. We had one in the house where we raised our kids, but now we don't even have a kitchen door.

My mother had a bridge date for the day of her funeral. I'm sure she hated to cancel. I'm pretty sure all the ladies were at the funeral. My grandmother got very frustrated when she was in her 90s because it was increasingly difficult to find people who could still think clearly enough to play at her level. She said playing with people at her retirement home was like being nibbled to death my a duck. One of my daughters played for a while, but quit a long time ago. I never hear about it from young people or even people my age.


Do you mean a saloon-type swinging door that doesn't cover the whole space? Or a regular door that doesn't have a knob, just a spring (or something?) that pulls it back into place when you push through it? We had one of the latter. It must have been a popular kitchen feature--in maybe the '20s or '30s? Ours was certainly not new in the late '50s.

Seems like I recently ran across a young person who played bridge, but can't remember the context. Could have been my mother talking about trying to teach it to one of her granddaughters. I have no clue whatsoever how to play, but then I've never had any interest in any card games at all.

At the place where I worked in 1980 there was a group of people my age that played bridge at lunch. All of them old now of course.

Way back in the 1960s, when I was in college, I took some lessons in playing bridge at the YWCA. Never was very good at it, and also didn't care at all for the deadly serious atmosphere and the tension between partners.

Just found a 2006 article about trying to make the game appealing to younger folks by making it less complicated; here's how it starts:

Two years ago, Maureen Hiron -The Independent's bridge correspondent - was playing a weeknight club game with her expat friends in Marbella when there was a break in play. Table seven had been asked to speed up a little. The instruction, quite literally, fell on deaf ears. That night, table seven consisted of a 98-year-old golfing Canadian called Sidney Matthews; Edith Gross, 95, a former ballerina who once danced for Adolf Hitler; Lilian Matthews, a Spanish international bridge player, 90; and 90-year-old Lorenzo Runeberg, a Finnish international known as "Ruthless Runie". They had a combined age of 373.

The latter. Our former house was built in 1933. They were usually between the kitchen and dining room so you could go through when carrying food--on a silver tray or otherwise.

When I was a young mother, my friends and I played bridge constantly--sometomes for 10 or 12 hours at a time. It is quite addicting.


For some people. Probably wouldn't have been for me.

Yes, that's where our swinging door was, too.

That article is fascinating, Marianne. Thanks. I guess bridge is the chess of card games.

From the article: "Bridge is complicated - it does take a time commitment to learn". My reaction is "why?!? Why would you want to make a major investment of time to learn a card game?" I don't mean that there's anything wrong with it, if you have the time and desire. I just don't get it.

When I was growing up there was a little feature on the comics page called Goren on Bridge. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know a bit more about who Goren was:

Now and then I would look at it. There would be a little diagram with the four players designated by the cardinal directions and a cryptic paragraph or so analyzing moves by the players. "North does this, South does that" etc. It kind of intrigued me...but not very much.

Goren had a TV program! "His television program, Championship Bridge with Charles Goren, was broadcast from 1959 to 1964 on the ABC network. It featured numerous appearances by top players and segments with celebrity guests such as Chico Marx, Alfred Drake, and Forest Evashevski, among others."

His book was my Bible.

Bridge is very complex. For me card games and all kinds of puzzles are very satisfying. It's a way of setting the world right. ;-)

Bridge is like chess in that it's very complicated and takes years to play well, and there is always more to learn. They are different in that chess is spatial. It's like the difference between Algebra--in which I was very good--and Geometry--which I could do but didn't like as well. I can't really play chess because I can't visualize the more than a couple of moves at a time. I used to be able to think through a whole hand of bridge before I started playing it.

I am no good at spatial things. If Bill describes something he is going to build, I can't see it until it is on paper. If I haven't been to a place--by land, I can't remember where it is. I could draw you a pretty good map of the southeast but I can't get the New England states in right relationship to one another.


My wife is working on a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I can't imagine...

Algebra vs. geometry--that's interesting. I'm pretty sure I would be as disastrously bad at bridge as I was at chess. I learned enough about chess at one time to play with my sons who were something like 10 and 12 years old, and they always wiped me out.

I'm the same way with spatial things. In general men tend to be better at that than women, but my wife is not just superior to me in that respect, we're not even in the same league. Like you, I can't see it until it's on paper. Can't see it *at all*, unless it's fairly simple and I try extra-hard. When we have work done on the house I try to just stay out of the way while she and the builder discuss it in great detail.

I have been thinking about getting out a jigsaw puzzle for two days.


The child is in the way - of everyone - of those concerned about being entertained and of she who is concerned about serving.

Princetta's bit of dialogue there is perfect.

Maclin, I missed this when you posted it -- even though I knew it was coming. Thank you!

I don't really remember my mother's being that much of a bridge player, but she did everything social back in the day, so I'm sure she did play some bridge. (It didn't occur to me to define what kind of "bridge" I meant!).

The genesis of the poem, though, really is in something she said to me a few years ago -- she had either just seen or read The Help and was talking to me about it, and said something about how she and her friends as young mothers in the early 1960s were trying to "make something of ourselves." Having a maid was kind of an indispensable part of that whole projected picture -- and she herself has also talked about just how hard those women worked, and for how little, and how ironic it was to be sitting there talking about getting a job like it was going to be your ticket to freedom.

Anyway one thought I had as she was telling me all this was, "Because you didn't believe that what you already were, ie my mother, was 'something'?" But I also began to imagine a child's overhearing her mother expressing these thoughts (which I certainly did not, that I can remember). And, yes, being the obstacle in everyone's way, though maybe she isn't entirely aware of this, or couldn't articulate it if she is.

My aunt once actually described going to the doctor because she just felt so tired, and the doctor told her -- not to get a little job, but to go shopping in Memphis -- "and leave that child home with the maid." A good bit of the dialogue was just handed right to me, though these women are a little more monstrous than I was ever conscious of women being when I was a child.

Oh, I meant to say, too: I like Janet's reading of "bridge." I don't know that I consciously thought about that, but it certainly works.

You're welcome.

I did try to avoid the biographical fallacy in thinking about the poem. :-) But clearly it couldn't have been written by anyone who didn't know the milieu. I wouldn't call the women monstrous but they are pretty self-centered.

The whole I-need-a-career-to-fulfill-me thing has always bothered me about feminism. Not that I can't understand the feeling, but, dang, if you see the world that way you're already in a pretty privileged position. Especially if you're able to assume that your job won't be working a cash register at WalMart. Also the implication that the husband is just out there having a great time while you're cooped up at home. Of course the husbands of these women are not doing hard labor.

For some reason it was the racial angle that struck me more than the gender one. S.E. is black, too, I bet.

Yes -- to all that. And yes, it began as a meditation on that whole Betty Friedan/proto-feminism thing, as filtered through the lens of upper-middle-class Southern life. But it did become about race. (and yes, S.E. is undoubtedly black). Work going on, done by people with far fewer choices, while people with lots of choices and lots of privilege -- though I really hate using that word, loaded as it's become -- sitting around thinking that what's going to give them meaning is work. Or something. Whatever it is they haven't got.

I should probably add that my mother is really not much like these women. Even at that stage in her life, when there was a lot that just WAS part of life (having a maid, for example), she was pretty reflective about racial inequalities, which she said she really started to meditate on in junior high or high school, after seeing South Pacific. She says that that was the first time, growing up in Jackson, TN, that she had ever heard anyone challenge the received thinking on race in that time and place. She's always been consciously progressive, though I think this has made her conflicted about some things. I think she might have been happier as the mother of young children if she hadn't listened to messages that told her she shouldn't be. She didn't actually go to work until I was in the 7th grade, and then she held a succession of fairly interesting social-work-type jobs, not just "a little job" to get out of the house. So while she was very much the catalyst for the poem, or gave me the catalyst in the form of some words, I really don't see her in these women. Just thought I should say that, although I know we all know that poems are not strict autobiography!

Good to know. :-)

I didn't get the South Pacific connection, so I looked it up, and I guess it's the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," which I have heard, though I haven't seen the play. I've always thought the song is wrong, or at best half-right. You really don't necessarily have to be carefully taught--hostility to other ethnic groups comes all too naturally to all too many people.

I know what you mean about the way "privilege" is being used now, but of course it's a real thing. I was amused recently to hear myself snarked at for being a privileged white guy--by another privileged white guy. Some privileged white guys seem to love that stuff.

Yes -- it was that song. And yes, I think it is wrong in the sense that people most often don't deliberately or "carefully" teach their children to hold prejudices. They themselves often aren't aware that the way they see other people amounts to prejudice. They just think that this is the way the world is. I don't know that you can blame people for largely accepting the world they inherit.

But that did prompt my mother to think and question, which on balance was a good thing.

And yes, it's interesting to me that people of the same race and class like to accuse each other of . . . being that race and class. Again, like you chose any of that on purpose. That's not to negate the reality of privilege and inequality, but I think the idea that you should feel personally guilty, or step aside or silence yourself because it's not your turn anymore is just wrongheaded. You don't heal these ills by rotas of de-platforming and silencing.

By "they" I'm sure I mean "we."

Agreed. It's hard to see any genuine wish for healing in a lot of current race/class/gender rhetoric. More a desire to punish, if only psychologically. And assert power.

I was in my teens at the height of the civil rights movement and thought the whole idea of not judging people by their race was really a pretty good one. I hate the way that's been turned on its head in recent years.

"I don't know that you can blame people for largely accepting the world they inherit."

Yes. I think there is a big Mr. Shiftlet* (or was it Shiflet?) moment awaiting those who are so eager to condemn most of the people who lived before 1960 or so. Contemporary culture has some pretty massive blind spots.

*Flannery O'Connor's "The LIfe You Save May Be Your Own"

This is why people like Jordan Peterson. He just won't play that game.

I see that another O'Connor's short story has become The Artificial Negro in many places.



John Crowe Ransom suggested to O'Connor that she change the title when he first published it in 1955 in the Kenyon Review.

Changing the title alone would have been ok. But you couldn't change what the old man says without wrecking the story.

Agree. It's been a while since I've read the story, but I think the narrator's voice in it always uses "negro", unlike the old man and the boy. O'Connor must have thought the reader would pick up on that.

Changing the title alone would have been ok. But you couldn't change what the old man says without wrecking the story..



"Changing the title alone would have been ok. But you couldn't change what the old man says without wrecking the story."

Very true. But wouldn't changing the title somewhat lessen the impact of what he says, given the connection between the two?

"I think the narrator's voice in it always uses 'negro', unlike the old man and the boy."

I'm not sure that there's anywhere in her fiction where the narrative voice uses "the N word."

I'd be surprised if it did.

Re the title, I meant changing it to something else entirely, not just the one word. Ransom just said "We better not use this title."

Caroline Gordon had told her that the omniscient third-person narrator must never speak in colloquialisms. But characters talk how they talk.

I just read Caroline Gordon's Collected Stories not long ago -- and now I wish I could have had her for a mentor.

You probably have The House of Fiction. Lots of good writing advice in that.

~~~Re the title, I meant changing it to something else entirely, not just the one word. Ransom just said "We better not use this title."~~~

I see. Yes, that would make sense.

I have read one novel by Caroline Gordon and always wanted to read more.


I've never read any of her fiction.

Maybe I will read one book by a Southern Agrarian every month for a year.


I'm a little sorry to say it but I think I'd get pretty tired of them. I will however insert here a recommendation for an Allen Tate novel, The Fathers. Not one of the greats but interesting.

"Maybe I will read one book by a Southern Agrarian every month for a year."

It probably goes without saying, but All the King's Men is pretty darn good. And Stark Young's So Red the Rose (1934) had a brief run being considered the quintessential Civil War novel until GWTW came along a few years later.

I've not read any of Gordon's novels, but I've liked the short stories of hers that I've read. Ditto Andrew Lytle.

And if you're interested in their poetry and criticism, Fugitives' Reunion: Conversations at Vanderbilt, is great fun.

I've never read All the King's Men. It happens to be sitting on top of a stack of books right now and I'll probably read it before too long.

The Fathers is also a Civil War novel. I'll venture a guess that it's more insightful than GWTW. Not at all romantic, though.

Well since I read and wrote about The Killer Angels, I have been thinking about reading more Civil War stuff, so I could combine the two.


I have to admit it's not a subject that I've ever had all that much interest in, which I guess does not reflect well on my Southernness.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)