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POETRY / Submerged / William Ogden Haynes


In the early part of the twentieth century, The Tennessee Valley Authority built hydroelectric dams and flooded thousands of acres of land across the southeast to provide electrical power and recreational waterways. During this time, a total of 15,000 families and 30,000 graves were relocated. The Alabama Power Company started building a dam on the Tallapoosa River in 1923. Before its completion three years later, the power company bought up land, razed or moved buildings, and relocated families and graves. After the flooding, this created what would later be called Lake Martin. 

A fat catfish glides through the living room like a dirigible
past the cracked mantel where photographs were once displayed. 
Curtains wave with the current through broken window glass. 
The small towns weren’t like the mythical Atlantis that no one

ever found. They were real places with names like Irma, Benson
and Susannah and only divers can find them today, the roadbeds, 
foundations and some parts of buildings. And in the kitchen, 
linoleum curls like a breaking wave and cupboard doors hang 

askew over empty shelves. The back door slowly opens and closes
on broken hinges as the water moves through the house. One year 
the towns were sitting on dry land and the next drowned by the 
power company after damming-up the Tallapoosa. They were 

populated by people who made hardscrabble lives for themselves
digging in Alabama rock and red clay. Looking through the back 
door, an outhouse lies on its side with a berm of mud accruing on
the bottom plank. Trees in the yard cut to stumps as far as one can

see, trunks tied to the lake bottom. Residents were paid fair market
value for their land and relocated to high ground that was not 
anointed with years of sweat and tears, work and care. Susannah
had a gold mine, grist mill, a school, two mercantiles, a sawmill,

blacksmith and a church, all now submerged. And in the darkness 
of the muddy lake bottom there are the cemeteries. Most of the 
graves are empty, but still there are others marked with etched
stones tangled in weeds. They are the undisturbed, resting in their

home soil. Nine hundred bodies were moved from Susanna
alone, but some stayed. Families could leave their relatives 
in cemeteries that would be flooded or move the coffin to 
higher ground, whichever they thought the deceased might prefer. 

It was only the dead who were given that choice. 

William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan. He has published six collections of poetry (Points of Interest; Uncommon Pursuits, Remnants, Stories in Stained Glass, Carvings and Going South) and one book of short stories (Youthful Indiscretions) all available on Over a hundred and fifty of his poems and short stories have appeared in literary journals and his work is frequently anthologized.