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The Little Georgia Magnet

At Memory Hill to spread lilies on daddy's grave,
we strolled in a stiff wind while Mama declaimed
about the politicians, Rebel boys, asylum inmates
and slaves interred hither and yon amid the cypress
glades. The shady slope makes a perfect sanctum
for a body to rest when its spirit has gone to Christ,
but I was starting to slip into my usual foolish haze.
Seeing my eyes go mazy, she said, "Mary Flannery,
that famous Georgia Magnet is buried around here,
number forty." I confessed I had no earthly idea
who she meant. The tale, it turns out, is terrific.

Just listen. Grown men could not lift nor tilt her.
Slip of a girl, she was sturdy as a fence post,
and with considerable wit. Not a girl, really—
she was a widow who devised an illusion, or so
the doubters explained: mass trance. Regina
said it was outside science, and the Magnet booked
our local opera house, then on to Baltimore,
New York. Reporters wrote she "set the Thames
aflame" with speculation. Birth-named Dixie,
she styled herself Annie Abbott for the stage,
like leaving a trap door, just in case. Electricity!
people said, her body held a charge—resistance.
Others hijacked the act, but she was the best.
In her rick-rack frock, gems and cherub curls,
she'd hold out a pool cue and defy two husky
volunteers to press it gee or haw. Sweat
and strain, circus muscle men could not budge it
an inch. Furthermore, in a chair, she could not
be raised. She had a power so much deeper
than the naked eye can gaze. Magic or leverage,
it was surely quite a show, her patter light
and pert. "A peculiar woman," Mama added,
"She left heaps of money to an arbor church."

Though it's clear her secret was more theater
than divine, I sympathize. Refusing to give
ground on account of mere physics makes sense—
unseen forces can be harnessed and unleashed.
Did each daybreak haunt her like a blank page?
The dedicated heart can bristle with energy,
at once gracious and fierce. "Electricity?" said
Mama. "Shoot, I'd be surprised if the audience
wasn't hypnotized. Whatever it was, the lady
took her mystery to the grave. It's somewhere
on the west side here," and I wondered what
the volunteers felt, touching Annie, feeling
that force, the strange and mysterious ways
the Maker of the universe performs His wonders.
I was hoping they were thunderstruck, mouths
agape, eyes a-glaze, and then the wind reared up
and licked the grass flat as a wet Shetland's mane.
I thought of filings sprinkled on a white paper
at school. You hold a bar magnet underneath,
and the iron bits form a pattern. Maybe the soul
runs a quiet current like that, and when the body
gives way, I guess, it takes the secret exit, Shazam!
Where it goes then is the jackpot question,
the object of all devout contemplation. Hypnotic,
not in thrall to men nor to the grave. Before
I could put that into words, the weather howled,
twisted trees made as if to uproot and tumble,
like we'd thrown things off with our folderol
and now were to be punished Noah-fashion.

Limping double-time like a pair of scatterbrains,
we set aside all high-falutin speculations
and nearly made it to the car before the rain.

R. T. Smith

The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O'Connor
Louisiana Literature Press

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