Pearl & Lee – High Country News – Know the West


A poem by Sean Hill.

Pearl Payne and Lee Pleasant Driver,

two of the few Anaconda niggers,

a foundry town, found themselves. Lee,

the protected side of something—

sheltered and sheltered – a pleasant

place sheltered from wind and rain. A pearl

develops from the need to soothe pain

—mother-of-pearl wraps around irritants to smooth

rough edges and results in a sheen

we appreciate, worthy of the necks

of our beloved ones if we can afford it.

Smelting, extracting metal from rock

or ore, copper in this case (valued because

it carries a current and connects people)

requires warmth and care. Pleasant Lee,

a former Buffalo Soldier, saw the value

in Pearl Payne, and she in him. He, born

at the end of the war, and she, a dozen

years later, who has not experienced slavery

but knew well what it meant to be

Black in a newly reconciled nation,

married in this western foundry town.

Born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill is the author of two books of poetry, Dangerous goods (Milkweed Editions, 2014), received the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry, and Blood ties and brown liquor (UGA Press, 2008), named one of ten books every Georgian should read in 2015 by the Georgia Center for the Book. He directs the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference at Bemidji State University. Hill lives in southwestern Montana with her family and is a professor of creative writing at the University of Montana. More information can be found at

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