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Summer Writing Resident Julia Tagliere: Stories in the Walls

Julia Tagliere is the second writer of the summer 2020 cohort to spend her week onsite participating in 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 re-purpose 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.

Read more about Julia's experience on site below, including a poem, "Windows," and an essay, "Stories in the Walls." You can read more about Julia and her fellow residents here.



(for Charlotte Pope)

Dream a box of golden light

Bring the outside in

Unborn safe from windows, Charlotte

dreams his outside in

One mad man you might refuse but

Two, you stood no chance

Two men built their box of light

Brought the outside in

Open every window, Charlotte

Let the outside in

That spring day did you seek rest, did

he just seize the chance

Through those open windows did your

inside wander out

Open every window, Charlotte

inside, calling out

He left this box of golden light,

never stood a chance

Open every window, Charlotte

Tear the inside out

Keep every window open, Charlotte

Weep your inside out

That spring day I hope you kissed him

When you had the chance

Shutter every window, Charlotte

Keep the inside out

No more open windows, Charlotte

Shut the inside out

No glad fame to ease your pain but

those two grabbed their chance

Every window sealed now, Charlotte

Turned you inside out

Keep the windows shuttered, Charlotte

calling inside out

You fled this box of golden light

when you had the chance

Every window shows me Charlotte

weeping inside out.

Stories in the Walls

This may or may not be a ghost story. I’ll leave that decision up to you.

When I arrived at the Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey estate to begin my week as Writer in Residence, I already had a working concept of what I wanted to write. I’d toured Monticello and Mount Vernon in years past, and, like many white people, have been a past contributor to the Gone-with-the-Wind-ification of our nation’s deeply brutal history. I’ve spent time since then, listening and learning and conscience-wrangling about my part in perpetuating such a deeply harmful mythology, and as my week approached, I realized how conflicted I’d become at the thought of benefiting from time at yet another plantation. I decided I wanted to explore that conflict further through my writing this week; it’s often how I try to process the world around me and my place within it.

Monday, August 3, 2020, 11:17 A.M.*

After giving me a tour of the mansion, I follow Sylvia to the Pope-Leighey house. Given the home’s size, just 1,200 square feet, it is a much shorter tour, which is fine with me, because I’m getting antsy to work. In what she tells me was once “the children’s room,” Sylvia points to a set of Froebel

blocks on the small table beside the bed (apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother gave him a set, which he credited for his becoming an architect, hence their presence here in the home he’d designed, in the room where children once played). I listen politely to Sylvia’s explanation, but as I turn to follow her from the room, a playful chill tickles my neck. I blame it on the coming storm, but all the same, once Sylvia leaves me for the day, I don’t return to the children’s room.

One of the saving graces about the Woodlawn estate (or at least, one that makes its preservation and continued status as a tourist attraction/historic site somewhat less complicated) is the fact that when the family sold the estate in its entirety in 1846, “…[it] was sold to Quaker timber merchants, who purposefully operated the farm plantation with free labor, making a statement in Virginia on the eve of the Civil War…” and, years later, “Senator Oscar Underwood from Alabama, an uncompromising advocate for civil rights [who actually led an anti-Ku Klux Klan faction at the National Democratic Convention in 1924], lived at the mansion from 1925 until his death in 1929.” (from the estate’s website). Oh, Alabama.

This later history of the estate cannot erase the evil that once took place here, but because of it, as an educational tool, Woodlawn, unlike some other preserved plantations, delivers a unique and powerful reminder (desperately needed these days) that where we are as a people and as a nation at any given moment, no matter how soaring or how bleak, is subject to unimaginable change over time. What we are now, we may not always be. It is a conscious choice we make, the choice to change, and places like Woodlawn are living monuments to that capacity. That was another angle I wanted to explore, so naturally, I planned to spend most of my time on the estate at Woodlawn, rather than at the Pope-Leighey house. But plans change, too.

Monday, August 3, 2020, 11:23 A.M.

I haul my work bag and small cooler in from the car and look around for a place to stow them, mindful of the advanced age (80 years) of the Pope-Leighey house and its status as a preserved treasure. The only place that