Beyond the traceries of the auroras, The fires of tattered sea foam, The ghost-terrain of submerged icebergs; Beyond a cinder dome's black sands, Beyond peninsula and archipelago, Archipelago and far-flung islands, You have made of exile a homeland, Voyager, and of that chosen depth, a repose. The eel shimmers and the dogfish darts, A dance of crisscrosses and trespasses Through distillate glints and nacreous silts, And the sun, like fronds of royal palm Wind-torn, tossed, lashes upon the wake, But no lamplight mars or bleaches your realm, A dark of sediment, spawn, slough, and lees, Runoff, pitch-black, from the rivers of Psalms.
Three Mathew Brady Photographs
1. Confederate Dead behind a Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, Virginia
Where the glass negative broke:
A silky, liquid black,
Like spilled scrivener’s ink,
Pools in the print’s margin.
Mouth gone slack, eyes upward,
Face glazed with blood, the man—
Lifeless, slumped, and tangled
In a tarp—looks for God.
Two leafless trees hold up
A scratched sky’s leaden weight.
Autumn? Winter? No wind
To sway the upright trees.
Such a long exposure
To affix the fallen,
(Staged or happened upon,)
Abandoned to this ditch.
2. Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia
It is a slow process:
fallen and standing trees,
Propped, bent, a clutter of intersections—
All moss- and lichen-ridden,
Bored by grubs, antler-scraped, bark rubbed free—
Hard to tell from the decay
the living from the dead,
The dead from the almost dead—
horizontal across the creek,
Uprooted when a flash flood cut the cut-bank—
Still leaves, blossoms, bears fruit.
Without a buttress,
A long dead sycamore remains upright.
3. Burying the Confederate Dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia
Jesus said, Let the dead bury the dead.
Two caskets and five or six canvas-
Covered bodies wait beside a trench
Three black men have spent all day digging.
Given their druthers, they’d obey scripture.