Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Letter

This poem is occasioned by the discovery in an old stagecoach stop of an unopened letter from Mrs. Mary C. Mann to Mrs. William B. Taliaferro, wife of Confederate General William B. Taliaferro, written October 18, 1862.

The letter is property of my father, amateur Civil War historian, who traded an outboard motor for the find. It is now in the hands of a preservationist at the University of Virginia, but its fate rests on Dad’s decision either to donate to the College of William and Mary, where Taliaferro’s papers rest, or to hoard his find. Time will tell.

The details in the first two stanzas are gleaned from the letter. The commentary of the last two stanzas is mine. While I revile Mrs. Mann’s venomous sentiments regarding the North and Mr. Lincoln’s Proclamation, I sympathize with all women who have worried for their men and lived their lives helpless of the forces that make the rules. As human, we must try to understand those whose ideas are not our own.

The Letter

A clock ticks minutes, days,

Generations, centuries, more…

Behind the mantel, lodged within a crack,

A missive waits in silent, sad dismay,

While Pippins, those not fallen and decayed,

Make flat array on proffered china plate,

And garden gay with flowers not yet nipped,

Soft Dahlia and Verbena, ever bloom

And ward away the threat of early frost

Forever in the peace that holds off Doom.

The little ones stay well, the doctor ill;

The neighbor’s youngest daughter still is gone.

Your son remains enthralled by soldier’s turn;

The servants settled, yet you feel alone.

Your husband’s horse once more from you bespoke;

Your visit to the city unfulfilled,

Your thoughts on Proclamation, “vile, extreme,”

Disdain and fear of changes here revealed.

Oh, lady, have you wondered all of time

That words of honeyed warm Virginia Tide

Should fall on ears turned deaf to soft, sweet sounds

And bring no answering measure to your side?

Have you long feared for horrors of the march,

Stampedes of dreadful, frightful things to come?

Would you have been at peace if you had known

That brothers here once more would be as one?

Your genteel letter sent with faith and hope

To silence anxious hearts and fears allay

Was lost to chance behind a piece of wood

And holds your heart in stasis here today.

Go softly to your rest with this sweet thought:

That one who reads the words that went astray,

Long years beyond your joys and fears and love,

Feels these as you, a time and tide away.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Right Angles

My father spends these days in wood –

Strong, hard oak that turns to smooth-grained

Treasures in his hands. Time and trials have taught

Him that to create the form he seeks, he first

Must put his heart into the piece.

I love to watch him move about his shop,

His big, rough hands touching planer and saw,

Holding router and clamp, reaching through the dust

Of creation he wears in every wrinkle and crease.

He says that his work must be square

So the bonds will hold and the fit will be true.

Carefully, he sights along the cut and chisels the waste away,

Proving the lessons of his work: “Right angles,”

He tells me, “make the best geometry.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Old Wound

The old wound pulls

me back and back,

tugs me a salt-filled ache

into the blood and mud

and mist, the smell of sulfur

and the blueblack metal dark,

always the dark.

I turn away my eyes,

turn my eyes away

unto the hills where comes

no peace, no peace I find,

only a scar, a darker lore,

extraordinary passions

and the wound.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ain't got no

ain’t got no rhythm

ain’t got no rhyme

ain’t got no story

ain’t got no time

ain’t got no song

within my head

ain’t got no lover

in my bed

ain’t got no friend

to call my own

ain’t got no right

to cast a stone

ain’t got no hope

for another day

ain’t got no more

for me to say

ain’t got no rhythm

ain’t got no rhyme

ain’t got no story

just outta time

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Before the pale faces,
before the elk vanished
with songs of my brothers
and spirits of bone,
rang the charge of painted waters
between the mighty mountains
beside the burning spring
in the land of salt and stone.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The House of the Poet

Every morning, the poet
leaves her house
to search the hills for
one perfect flower-
a yellow buckwheat,
the white-haired leather flower,
or mountain pimpernel,
tenacious specimens that cling
and root deep into the mountain.
Higher she climbs and higher,
turning over loose shale
that bounces from the backs
of the beasts that clack and rattle below.
Nothing lives on the barrens,
only the dust that stains her
black as the coal running in the veins.
By night, she wanders claustrophobic rooms,
preparing labels for empty jars
and writing epitaphs for garden walls.
Flowing formations growl
within the belly of the earth,
but no words guard the door
to the house of the poet.