A Variation Upon Bobbie Gentry’s “Chickasaw County Child”

Her parentage was a thing of considerable comment
Though a good deal less circumspection,
Mama’s identity relatively sure, as everyone knew her mama,
Her father one of a laundry list of unpromising gardeners,
Yet she was a child of grace–no, more than that
An outlier in every sense of the word,
The dazzling unintended consequence
Resulting from a series of unwise and unhappy choices.
She sauntered (though there are those romantically inclined sorts
Who would insist she outright floated,
Her feet rarely if ever touching ground)
By the courthouse in Okolona most afternoons,
And though her dress was from the house of Ralston and Purina
And her jewelry courtesy of Sailor Jack and Bingo,
She neither shrunk nor slunk self-consciously
Nor walked with eyes ablaze and fists clenched,
In a manner asking Mebbe you wanna make sumpin’ of it?
Simply walked her own walk,
Such things as poverty and pedigree
Simply matters beneath her concern,
Though she was always provided for, as a seemingly chosen child,
Judge Hibbard giving her a store-bought doll from Jackson
When she turned seven, others providing her pop and bubble gum,
And later Miss Lucille Brisker sewed her a bright-blue silk dress
Plus gave her forty-two dollars for a Greyhound ticket
To Los Angeles via New Orleans
(When she hopped the bus in front of the K &B,
She gave her a peck on the cheek, and said
Miss Lucille, you take care, but I doubt
I’m much likely to pass this way again.
Her whys and wherefores after that were lost to time and tide:
Perhaps she made it in L-A, perhaps she thought else-wise
And hopped off the bus in Hattiesburg or Bogalusa
Though most were of the opinion that it mattered little if at all,
As she allowed them, leastways for a little while,
To be in her orbit while she shone in such a manner as pleased her.


20 thoughts on “A Variation Upon Bobbie Gentry’s “Chickasaw County Child”

  1. How do you do it? This is rich in character and observation as well as spiritual reflection, all superbly expressed as an engaging narrative, a biography even, and with startling economy.

    Somehow, like so much of your writing, it stands still and grasps the essence of the true life, both for the subject of your poem and for the witness.

    You go much further than Bobby Gentry and you eliminate the lure of ambition.

    Poetry indeed. I take my hat off to you.

      1. Having read the contributions of your other readers, I cannot see that this establishment requires uplift, especially as I thought Bobby Gentry was a man.

        Maybe you mean I should serve my speciality roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

  2. W.K., I had never heard of this song by Bobbie Gentry until I read this. First I went to YouTube and listened to it. I agree with Richard. You wrote it almost like a news story. It’s kind of like Paul Harvey commentating it, rather than Bobbie Gentry singing it. It sort of reminds me of an edition of Paul Harvey’s daily broadcast “The Rest of The Story”! And that is a compliment, because I was a BIG fan of Paul Harvey!!!!


    1. Here’s some more of the rest of the story…did you know that Bobbie Gentry was part of the original ownership group of the Phoenix Suns? I don’t know how big a piece she owned, but she held onto it until the late 80’s; apparently that, plus the fact she invested very well in SoCal real estate, made her a very wealthy woman.

      1. No, I wasn’t aware of that, WK, but I will tell you this. In the afternoon before a Knicks-Suns night game in 1977, a few friends and I were in the lobby of the New Yorker Hotel, where the visiting teams stayed when they were in New York, and we got the autograph of Mike Bratz, who was then a rookie guard with the Suns. Two really TREMENDOUSLY hot women came up to him afterwards and started flirting with him, and he put his arms around their waists, and the three of them headed up the elevator together, presumably to Mike Bratz’ room. And I said to one of my friends that one of the women looked a great deal like Bobbie Gentry, the singer! So now I know that it probably WAS Bobbie Gentry, because of your telling me that she owned a piece of the Phoenix Suns.



  3. You tell the tale with just the right amount of detail to inspire curiosity, and we must also watch her flit before our eyes before disappearing to a brighter future.

  4. I had heard that other song about Billy Joe Robidoux McCallister jumping off the Choctaw bridge….the strings sound so loose. They make such a deep echo, in the Chicksaw County Child song too. A friend of mine from Beloit told me, swore by the Billy Joe song. I could never figure out why she played it so often. It was like she was warning us of our fates if we hung out with her too long. Well, she made it out of Beloit and onto New York and did pretty well for herself. I wonder if there’s some of her in this poem?

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