‘A Confederate State’

Here’s a poem from the vault to go with the Civil War program that my co-blogger Dick will be involved with in April. I wrote this poem after visiting my brother David and his family in south central Virginia in the 1970s. He had recently taken a position as a political science professor at Hampden-Sydney College. It was my first encounter with Civil War places in the South. The markers and memorials were numerous. In the poem I use the historical landscape as a way to get a glimpse of the narrator’s interior life. From Colonial Williamsburg and Jefferson’s Monticello to Appomattox Court House, Virginia oozes the American experience in the same way that Massachusetts does.–PM


A Confederate State


We make a race course of Lee’s Retreat—

Past battlefields of weeds, past bronze signs noting water-stops

Of gray-coats lugging themselves toward cover.

And we hum by in a cream sedan, eating up chunks of highway,

Watching them lie back down through the rear window;

Inhaling history too quickly to notice

A general’s sweaty hat or his charger

Or soldiers chewing on dry corn taken from mules.

We speed by the traces, then pull into a driveway

Close to Appomattox, knowing we’re short of their destination,

Not harried to surrender or bargaining for peace,

Although we’d like passes to get by hostile counties

On the way back to our own confederacies,

The linked states of our lives.

—Paul Marion (c) 1977, 2015