“Red Clay”

by Joe Manus

Soils are much like people.

The color of the soil does not affect its behavior or use, rather it indicate its history.

Once I became a rural Georgia kid, I became intimately connected to Georgia’s red clay.

Every kid that Miss Sissy stopped the bus to pick up in the mornings had a house skirted with two feet of reddish splash along its foundation walls. Every kid had the same reddish glow to their once-white shirts and shoes. It was as if I was wearing tinted goggles, giving my entire view a dusted vermilion haze. My eyes had adjusted to their new world and would never go back to their befores. I learned that the color happened because it was richly laden with iron. I believed or made myself believe for years that if I breathed in enough of it, I would garner super strength.


The first year as a suburban to rural transplant, I learned to work. Not the kind of emotional work I had been used to. Farm work. Farm work done by a ten-year-old, managed by a seventy-year-old World War II drill sergeant. His prior services rewarded his ability to break a young man down so he could build him back to his liking.

Dig hole for fence pole.

Refill around pole.

Pack clay and tamp wedged field stone to secure.

Repeat 134 times.

Clear fields of rocks.

Bush hog fields.

Cut close, sixty percent overlap.

After being dealt many defeats by my fire ant adversaries those months, I would ready my tank to obliterate their forts.

Any less, do over.

1959 Fordson Dexta.

Creamy soft blue engine shroud with

Jackson Pollock dove or crow excrement montage.

Rust-underscored milk-white components.

Orange crusting crunk wheels.

Shadow of black vinyl seat cushion with afroed coarse fiber spilling out.

Crank tractor.

Engage blade.

Throttle maximum.

13 mph advancement.

Straddle ant hill.

Massive vermilion cloud poofs.

Dust settling on the hood of the tractor, turning it’s blue to muddied lavender.

Back to work.

Chop wood. Stack wood. Who would, I rather be at that moment. I guessed many, but I really was okay where I was. If I was working outside the house, that meant I wasn’t being worked over inside the house. Mom’s words were engine with tonal velocity. 

My stepfather, his broad hunched back to me, looking in another direction for the next thing his failing body couldn’t achieve. His right foot in an ant bed. Giggling inside as I watched them spread northerly towards the top of his worn boot.

I wiped my red clay hands on my shirt, forming two handprint wings across its breast, ready to fly me away from my new color, from my new history.