Only illustrations, never originals, but better than
Nothing. A Boy’s Own Book of American History,
And so I made it my
Own. And so Fort Sumter was only
Yesterday, or shall we say
The penultimate yesterday, the ages-long day before
My crowning and my birth. Kentucky
Was bleak, is bleak, in January.
But that’s another sort of history,
The kind that trails behind in
Full color, sound, and motion.
The other, this capital H, squats like sap
In the trunk of my keyless tree.
Gravure of combat here, assassination there,
But never the shot itself. Only the bearded
Victim, fat and very much dead.
And so the Revolution was engraved,
Crispus Attucks falling in a crude fusillade,
All billows and pupil-less eyes, another
Of Sergeant Jasper atop Fort Moultrie,
Hoisting the crescent moon, midnight
Blue in the face of so much shot, heroic
Tatters and peculiar hats. This was
The Palmetto State, after all. Mandatory
Material, moonlight and magnolias.
So you will forgive me. Old Hickory
And the battle of New Orleans and all
That jazz. Jackson defying a redcoat
Officer and tasting steel for his
Impudence. One brazen hand stretched towards
The sword, the other flung back, shielding
His backwoods mother, noble gestures rendered
Broadly on page forty-seven. His mother who
(and here again is where
upper and lower cases cross)
Was laid to rest in an alley at the rear
Of a building in which I once
Worked. Or so the stone said.
The hows and whys of it
There’s a chapter on the Gay Nineties and a lurid
Poster for a song called “The Girl I Left Behind.”
An impossible trail, trackless waste, and the dandy
Returned from the city, and the girl, the one he left
Behind, huddled on the cold ink, a ragged rendering
Of a blanket wrapped round her. The shock and shame
Of it, the poor innocent abandoned between the four
Edges of her depicted world, small enough to fit
The page yet witheringly vast. With what I could only take
To be her final breath she does not take his hand, does not
Plead with eyes or lips. She sees beyond him, through him,
And her mind is not on the tramp he’s keeping in the
County seat or the sack full of gold dust that will never be
Hers. Over his left shoulder is a ridgeline, barely visible
In the receding bookscape. Here she watches something
Fly from the highest point of the gray blue rise and plunge,
A morsel in its beak, hungry for more, and she expires, this last
Image playing again and again as her grip loosens and she wilts
One last time. And he will leave her, as the title says he will, I
Just know it. And there is no stone to mark her, no matter
How imprecise. And I’ve long since lost the book, so I’m no help.
We’ll just have to make it up
As we go along.