On a Young Poet

Liz loved poetry. She dabbled in photography as a teen, but that hobby was expensive, and, as the daughter of a single mom who worked as a piece-meal seamstress, money was tight and hard to come by. But the poetry—she kept that habit throughout her life.

In the 1920s in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, opportunities for young women were few and far between. Most young women simply bided their time until they could find a man and get married. That was the ambition of most of her friends, and Liz was no exception. As a high school sophomore at age 15, she met a man named Roy Thornton, and the pair of young lovers dropped out of school and married less than a month before she turned 16.

The marriage proved, unsurprisingly, to be a dud. Roy turned to petty crimes to make money—the Great Depression hit the south long before the Wall Street Crash of 1929—because he couldn’t find honest work or, more likely, simply because it was easier. Roy ended up incarcerated because, well, he wasn’t a very good or bright crook. The pair never spoke to each other after January 1929. While Liz never really talked about him in later life, she did wear the cheap wedding ring he gave her until the day she died.

Yet, Liz continued to write her poems. Many of them had dark themes that reflected her desperate financial situation that Roy had contributed to. One of her stanzas, written in a small notebook she got from a bank as a gift for opening a short-lived savings account, seems to describe her feelings for her long-gone husband:

If he had returned to me sometime

Though he hadn’t a cent to give,

I’d forget all the hell that he’s caused me

And love him as long as I lived.

The rather long poem shows that young Liz had a decent sense of rhyme, and the work makes references to historical women like Helen of Troy but also exhibits a working knowledge of street/petty crime jargon of the day. She continued to write throughout her life, scrawling verses on any scrap paper she could find.

One day, a friend asked Liz to stay with her to assist her around the house because of a broken arm. Out of the kindness of her heart, Liz agreed, and she moved in with the friend. There, and through this friend, she met a young man who was also from the west Dallas suburbs. Liz would later describe their meeting as electric, and the pair hit it off despite the fact that he, too, preferred to make his money via nefarious means rather than through honest work. Liz found in the young man a source of inspiration for more poems. Love does strange things to people, and, in Liz’s case, it caused her to lose herself in the criminal life of her new beau. She was 19; he was 20.

One of her last poems tells you what you probably have already guessed, that Liz—Elizabeth—was her middle name. Let’s let her last poem tell you who she is:

Some day they’ll go down together

They’ll bury them side by side.

To few it’ll be grief,

To the law a relief,

But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

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