I now write I do not offer as any thing like a history of the
important events of the time, but rather as my memory of them,
the effect they had on me personally, and to what extent they
influenced my personal conduct. (Memoirs of General William
mean to tell me that after all the pine
and Spanish moss wisping from baldcypress,
after the cattle egrets and common egrets
and snowy egrets from swamps and rivers
and bayous through spicy breezes soaked
with scented blossoms headier than anything
a lady in summer décolletage might dab
behind her ears or hidden knees or
along her low neckline to cool the space
around her as she leans over, laughing, after
the wine and accents like vallies
next to flat Ohio vowels, leans over
to touch a blue sleeve with just enough
showing to make the local Tabasco
taste tepid and magnolia flowers
no match for her neck or shoulders
lighting the vacancy left by a family
waiting in another state, you mean to tell me
that even the scourge, the hun, the cruel barbarian,
even Satan himself could waste that landscape
without pools of remorse congealing inside him?
Good Grey Poet
have stood in the snug little house
Mickle Street on the anniversary of your death
a woman read from your autopsy report,
her list the contents of your stomach
bowels on that last day, testify
the brown solidity of your liver,
witness, as though to shame the defamers,
the cleanliness of your life.
have sat at your tomb in the hillside
the shadow of the Catholic hospital
the breeze scattered sunlight
across the Cooper and traffic
Haddon Avenue was only a distant droning
of bees, and played you slow airs on a whistle—
Glass" and "Journey's End"—
cheer you of a summer's day.
have flown north on the BQE at seventy,
a winter Sunday morning, with wind
up whitecaps on the East River
snowdrops on a grey January lawn, high
the Brooklyn docks you knew,
my way to the north shore of the island
you early heard the musical shuttle
the mockingbird's throat weave song
the mallow and sea oats.
have huffed in the mortal stink of that river
crossing on the ferry to Manhattan,
spoke out across the centuries to me
the sons of my grandson's sons
the black bearded Hassidim of Brownsville alike
my father's father was formed of the dust.
atoms of your body are always found,
your loving soul, you who were young once,
with life, as I was young,
who grew old in pain and died,
I will die. I find you daily
my bootsoles in the Camden lots,
scraps of insulated wire,
glinting mica, the sandy mud,
you in the laughter of working men
explodes like cannon fire from the city bars,
the clean and wholesome smiles of women,
the cryings of infants, the palsies of old men,
in the white gulls that wheel at dawn
the wide and sun-shocked Delaware.
whole world was there, plucking their linen,
mumbling, sucking on their moustache tips.
was still in business and they asked no favors.
the cracked ribs of Fredericksburg,
boys who held their tongues at Chancellorsville,
the bandages, mule shit, skin and shot
the Rappahannock's banks
poured it in our mouths
sat up half the night reading to the Army of the Potomac
about trooping goats and crazy fathers
grass in the wilderness.
me that saved his life, dear mother,
had dysentery, bronchitis, and something else
the doctors couldn't properly diagnose.
He's no different than the others.
I bring them letter-paper,
oranges, tobacco, jellies,
gingersnaps, and shinplasters.
night I was lucky enough
have ice cream for them all
and they love me each and every one.
early teachers stretched on canvas cots
their bad grammar, backs smeared by caissons,
heap of arms and legs junked beneath a tree
a load for a one-horse cart. At night,
peaked by shebangs in the bush.
find the stagedrivers laid up there—
Joe, George Storms, Pop Rice, Handy Fish,
Elephant and his brother Young Elephant (who came later),
Joe, Julep Tarn, Tick Finn, and Patsy Dee—
pinched khaki drifting down the gangways,
looking for those not waiting there,
lays and punji sticks alive in their dreams.
small fire still burns in the nursery.
and molasses simmer on the stove.
will have to learn to ask for less,
from the elephant dawn that chilled
the heights where Lee held his ground.
sky curled its wrath about the land
they brought America's fire home.
on our hands, ashes at Bull Run, buckets from Pleiku
he stood watching on the shore, pulling his beard.