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Summer Resident Andy Tran: for Hanson

Andy Tran is the third of four writers in the 2018 cohort of our local residency program at Northern Virginia's Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House and Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Our summer writers-in-residence focus their weeks on-site exploring ways to rediscover and repurpose place and place histories, and use writing as a means to build community, to bring awareness to critical social and environmental issues, and as a creative force of empowerment.

In the prose poem below, Andy shares part of the story of what and who he encountered during his week at Woodlawn. You can read more about Andy and his fellow residents here.


for Hanson

by Andy Tran

Black bodies buried beneath this fresh and Black soil

can no longer speak. and their names are jotted down,

but their stories haven’t been told. in the courtyard,

by the fountain, pen in hand, rear in chair, i ponder

about whether i have the right to write and tell

the stories of those bodies. i breathe in the quiet

and chill air, hoping Hanson, the enslaved cook,

will guide my hand as i write notes on his recipes

onto my crumpled pad. the woodlawn estate looms

over me and it scares and excites my imagination

when my fingers crack and tremble from dragging

my black pen across the white pages. the Black ink

seeps into the white notepad, blotting out the plainness.

i stand up and stretch my hands, i put my headphones on,

press play, and listen to “Coffee Bean” by

Travis Scott— “Feel like someone’s readin’

your horoscope/some shit only me and the Lord

knows/SOS, that’s for those who hear

this in morse code/Too many doors closed…”

i turn the knob and open the white door

to the woodlawn bridal suite. i sit on the couch

and check the internet for information on Hanson.

google Hanson into the search bar. click:

william cook hanson is the first name that pops up

as the first result. the rest of the results are white names

and white faces. barely anything can be found

on Hanson. the ac unit rattles and the brilliant light

from the lamp dims, as if on cue. Hanson was the cook,

which made him pertinent in the lives of the white family

who lived at the woodlawn estate. because he cooked,

created, and cultivated the food, Hanson resided in the

kitchen, meaning he slept there after he labored for hours,

baking bread in a beehive shaped oven, next to a fireplace

that burned all day, every day. there’s a cook book

that features two of his recipes in a book

of over 90 recipes. this is Hanson’s recipe

for Breakfast Biscuits: “Take a quart of dough,

add butter the size of a hen’s egg, work it up

very well so as to mix the butter & dough well,

roll it out 3 or 4 times cut it in small pieces, roll them up

like an Egg, just flatten them a little with the rolling pin,

set them by a few minutes to rise, & bake them

in a slow oven.” i borrowed this recipe from nelly

custis lewis’s housekeeping book, which was edited

with an introduction by patricia brady schmit, to show

how many of the recipes in the book were most likely

“borrowed” from Hanson. to segue, i eat my meatball sub

and drink my orange soda. i think about food. i think

about traveling to get food. i think about food and travel.

i think about Anthony Bourdain. i think about Hanson;

i think about Anthony Bourdain. i think about Hanson;

i think about Anthony Bourdain. i think about Hanson;

i finish eating and open up the white door and walk

outside. on sunday, i work at the arcadia center’s farm

and maneuver a wheelbarrow around and over

the bumps and ridges of the damp grass. as rain plummets

onto the green land, i take a moment to reflect, my knee

bleeding from a cut. i remember my residency week

and wander, lost in thoughts. there i am again. i sit

back in my chair and stare at the white

tarpaulin where they host the weddings. i wonder

if Hanson was married. i wonder if he had children.

i wonder if he was ever happy. i pick up my pen,

my hand shuddering, as i scribble words onto the page.

it feels strange to write about the Black bodies buried

beneath this rich and Black soil. but I want to honor

Hanson and the slaves who lived, work, and sacrificed

their hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, faces, teeth, and minds

to build this estate. these Black men and women toiled

to create this establishment for white families while

their families lived outside in slave quarters two miles

away from the property.

tell me if i have the right

to write the stories

of those Black bodies

buried beneath

this fresh and Black soil.


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