The Lullaby of History
The Lullaby of History By Kevin Boyle
I put the bookmark in the page after Lincoln’s silence during the 1860 campaign, after no one in the Gulf States cast a single vote for him, then march off to the car, carseat in tow, drive on cruise, mainly, to the site in Durham where Sherman coaxed the Southern general—Johnston— to submit twice, sign twice. The six hundred thousand dead were like the shucks inside the reconstructed bed, the smoke the chimney slewed, the clayish mud. In the museum, name-tagged women watch our daughter, four months here, while we investigate the flags with gunshot holes, the uniforms with gunshot holes, the shells of the Union Army with three rings, the shells of the Confederate’s with two. We take our daughter to the filmstrip, where she sleeps through the stills of uniformed corpses in ditches and cries at war’s end, one flag for all these states. We ride, strapped, to the Greek restaurant known for its sauces and lamb, stroll inside the tobacco warehouse transformed into a mall, each glass pane so large a truck could drive through and pick up brightleaf to ship. They say this section profited when South met North and troops took in the smoke of this leaf, spreading by word of mouth the flavor, until the profits were so large owners began to donate. In the antique store we happen upon a map my father might love of Ireland before division, just as it appeared when he was born, the north a section, not another country, Ulster’s counties awash in the orange the mapmakers stained it. But we can’t commit to buy for this price, or prevent our daughter from falling asleep as we discuss facts the map makes clear: battles marked in bold, our side losing again and again, the Flight of the Earls, Vinegar Hill, the Battle of the Boyne, and we donate a moment during the drive home to feel the weight of the centuries’ dead, almost cry for all those men who gave their skin to the ground so young, so young brought their lips to earth and let their mouths cave in, accept the soil as their voice. We did not wake our girl through this. Let her sleep, we said.
From A Home for Wayward Girls by Kevin Boyle. Reprinted with the permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose, Kalamazoo, Michigan. All rights reserved.