Tuesday, April 12, 2011

National Poetry Month: J. Patrick Lewis

"White Nightmare"
Runaway slave, Milledgeville, Georgia

August 1863

Cracked jackets of field corn bake
At the back end of Heartbreak, Georgia.
Easing my way north through the yellowing
Tallboys, I'm Solomon "Black" Jacks,
On the cliff of nineteen, on the run
From shackles and fear, stopping to hear
The lies late August tells. A blue racer
coils at my feet. Swifts hurricane, the nest
Of my dust-downed hair. An orphan cloud
Stalls like a thought. I dream-sail the gray
Nimbus past the whole thin shimmer
Of my come-to-nothing life --
The gaunt captain of a ship called
Consequence on a day named Desire --
Hunched down on the sun-spidered tile
Of Georgia looking back looking ahead
Wondering whether I can ride out
Of this white nightmare on the back of a five
Dollar bill and bullwhip-long odds
Of making it in a land as alien as space
And altogether improbable as Pennsylvania.

The Federal fort at Sumter, South Carolina was shelled on April 12, 1861, and the growing secession of Southern states became a war one hundred fifty years ago today. J. Patrick Lewis has created a poem cycle that captures the dis-union, confusion and disaster which followed in his book of original poems,
The Brothers' War: Civil War Voices in Verse (National Geographic Press, 2007). The poems are accompanied with photographs by Civil War photographers Matthew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, Alexander Gardner and others, illuminating the personal cost and national loss to a nation divided by war.

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