It's the ragged source of memory, a tarpaper-shingled bungalow whose floors tilt toward the porch, whose back yard ends abruptly in a weedy ravine. Nothing special: a chain of three bedrooms and a long side porch turned parlor where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked every evening over the news, a long sunny kitchen where Annie, his wife, measured cornmeal, dreaming through the window across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill where she had borne their spirited, high-yellow brood. In the middle bedroom's hard, high antique double bed, the ghost of Aunt Jane, the laundress who bought the house in 1872, though I call with all my voices, does not appear. Nor does Pomp's ghost, with whom one of my cousins believes she once had a long and intimate unspoken midnight talk. He told her, though they'd never met, that he loved her; promised her raw widowhood would heal without leaving a scar. The conveniences in an enclosed corner of the slant-floored back side porch were the first indoor plumbing in town. Aunt Jane put them in, incurring the wrath of the woman who lived in the big house next door. Aunt Jane left the house to Annie, whose mother she had known as a slave on the plantation, so Annie and Pomp could move their children into town, down off Shelby Hill. My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters watched their faces change slowly in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door into teachers' faces, golden with respect. Here Geneva, the randy sister, damned their colleges, daubing her quicksilver breasts with gifts of perfume. As much as love, as much as a visit to the grave of a known ancestor, the homeplace moves me not to silence but the righteous, praise Jesus song: Oh, catfish and turnip greens, hot-water cornbread and grits. Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles; generations lost to be found, to be found.
The Continental Army
George Washington passes through Lyme, CT 10 April 1776
As I lifted the kettle from the hob,
I heard the sound of drums from far away.
I paused a moment. Then that hot water
got heavy. But I listened while I worked:
a steady rhythm, now and then a fife.
I washed, wiped and put the dishes away,
then dried my hands and hung up the dishrag.
Now I heard hoof beats and many men’s boots.
I took my shawl and stepped into the dusk.
Out front, a white man with golden shoulders
and a sandy pigtail sat a gray horse
as if they were one being longing to prance.
Most of the town was lined along the street
clapping and cheering. A white army marched,
black booted feet in perfect unison,
toward the church, in identical cocked hats,
white sashes, blue coats with silver buttons,
fawn weskits and breeches, and knee high boots.
They carried muskets fitted with bayonets.
Never had I seen such terrible power.
They marched to the cadence the drummer set,
left right left right left right, for many ranks.
Some of us gathered behind McCurdy’s house
whispering what we had heard and understood
of all this commotion. Zacheus swore
he saw some brothers among the soldiers.
The drummer they marched to brought up the rear.
We stood silenced when we saw his dark face.