For the Confederate Dead
I go with the team also. —Whitman These are the last days my television says. Tornadoes, more rain, overcast, a chance of sun but I do not trust weathermen, never have. In my fridge only the milk makes sense— expires. No one, much less my parents, can tell me why my middle name is Lowell, and from my table across from the Confederate Monument to the dead (that pale finger bone) a plaque declares war—not Civil, or Between the States, but for Southern Independence. In this café, below sea- and eye-level a mural runs the wall, flaking, a plantation scene most do not see— it's too much around the knees, height of a child. In its fields Negroes bend to pick the endless white. In livery a few drive carriages like slaves, whipping the horses, faces blank and peeling. The old hotel lobby this once was no longer welcomes guests—maroon ledger, bellboys gone but for this. Like an inheritance the owner found it stripping hundred years (at least) of paint and plaster. More leaves each day. In my movie there are no horses, no heroes, only draftees fleeing into the pines, some few who survive, gravely wounded, lying burrowed beneath the dead— silent until the enemy bayonets what is believed to be the last of the breathing. It is getting later. We prepare for wars no longer there. The weather inevitable, unusual— more this time of year than anyone ever seed. The earth shudders, the air— if I did not know better, I would think we were living all along a fault. How late it has gotten . . . Forget the weatherman whose maps move, blink, but stay crossed with lines none has seen. Race instead against the almost rain, digging beside the monument (that giant anchor) till we strike water, sweat fighting the sleepwalking air.
Excerpted from For the Confederate Dead by Kevin Young Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Young. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Kevin Young's poetry collections include Brown (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018) and Book of Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), winner of the 2015 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020.
Date Published: 2007-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/confederate-dead