Dispatch From A Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

This city is dripping with brood. Ashen graves and widows’ walks, even the ghosts are famous here.

I learned today that Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor moss. I’m talking about that long tangly stuff hanging from the oak trees like tendrils of lady hair. The image of Southern Gothic (if a literary genre cared to have a mascot). It’s actually an air plant most closely related to the pineapple. And there are tiny red bugs that live in the “moss” that used to be used for pillow stuffings and that’s where we get the saying “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

I’ve also learned since being here that my friend gave himself tattoos in jail by rubbing two batteries together to make a spark with the help of a staple, and then put the flame on the stainless steel sink in his cell to make soot, and the soot became the tattoo ink, scraped off with Vaseline. I hope I got that right. It was a wildly inventive process that was also hard to follow.

Yesterday I went on a trolley tour and the tour guide pointed out a pretty town square and said,

“On a maudlin note, this square was once a burial ground for slaves.” 

(change in tone, back to a cadence so candy sweet it makes my tooth ache). 

“On a less maudlin note, isn’t the gazebo lovely!!? It was donated to the city of Savannah by Burt Reynolds after he filmed the movie ‘Gator’ here!! It’s also one of the most popular spots to get married in town!!!”

I sit in a cemetery as I write this, disturbed and intrigued. The air thick with history. Wondering at how many times a day the trolley driver cartwheels over the death of slaves to thank Burt Reynolds. If she even hears herself anymore. That tourist script repeated day after day. If using a decorative word like “maudlin” softens the blow. 

I love the ferns hanging from front porches here. The cobblestone streets. 

I love being a tourist again, after 18 months in pandemic hibernation. Jotting down notes like I’ve done on so many trips in the past. Except this time I wear a mask. Or maybe I always did, but this mask is one you can see.