by Norman Dubie
Mistress Adrienne, I have been given a bed with a pink dresser
In the hothouse
Joining the Concord Public Library: the walls and roof are
Glass and my privacy comes from the apple-geraniums,
Violets, ferns, marigolds, and white mayflags.
I get my meals
With the janitor and his wife and all of the books are mine
To use. I scour, sweep, and dust.
I hope you don't think of me
As a runaway? I remember your kindness,
Your lessons in reading and writing on the piazza.
My journey was unusual. I saw some of the war
And it was terrible even far up into the North.
My first fright was at a train depot outside Memphis
Where some soldiers found me eating not yet ripened
Quinces and grapes, they took me prisoner: first
I helped some children carry tree limbs to the woodbox
Of the locomotive, then, I was shown to a gentleman
In the passenger car who was searching for his runaway
Negress in a purple dress; he wouldn't identify me,
And I was thrown in with about forty stray blacks into
An open boxcar and soon we were moving, next to me
A man was sucking on the small breasts of a girl
Maybe twelve years of age, across from them
A sad old woman smiled as she puffed on an old cigar end,
By afternoon she was dead, her two friends
Just kicked her out so that she rolled down into pasture
Frightening some hogs that ran off into a thicket.
The girl next to me whimpered and shook. Those quinces
Just ran straight through me and all I could do was
Squat in one corner that was supplied with ammonia-waters
And hay. We were given that night Confederate uniforms
To mend and when the others slept I dressed in three
Shirts and trousers and leapt from the moving train,
The padding helped some but I couldn't walk the next day.
I hid in a shack that seemed lonely but for a flock
Of turkeys, some young hens, and a corncrib with tall
Split palings. The next morning from a hill
I watched field-workers on a tobacco plantation, it took
Two men to carry a single leaf like a corpse from
A battle scene. That night I found a horse with a bit
In its mouth made of telegraph wire. He carried me up all
The way to Youngstown. Chloe, you must
Learn to swim in the pond and to ride the old sorrel.
I am grateful. I had to swim two rivers. I fished some
For perch, bream, and trout and ate dried berries.
I stole a bushel of oysters from the porch of a farmhouse.
I treated my sores with blackgum from poplars. I witnessed
The hanging of three Confederate soldiers at a trestle:
Once they were done dancing, they settled in their greatcoats
Like dead folded birds. I have a hatred
Of men and I walked away from the trestle singing.
I spoke to The Concord Literary Club last Tuesday
About my experiences. I told them you never did
Abuse me. How we would sit out in the gazebo
And listen to the boys with their violins, tambourines,
Bones, drums and sticks. How we wept as girls
When the fox bit the head off our peahen and that
From that day how the peacock, missing his mate, would
See her in his reflection in a downstairs window
And fly at it increasing his iridescence with lacerations.
When I left you the windows were all missing and daubers
Were making their mud houses in the high corners
Of the hallway. With sugar-water and crepe I have put a new
Hem on my purple dress.
At night I walk down the aisles
Of the library, the books climb twenty feet above me,
I just walk there naked with my tiny lamp.
I have the need to fling the lamp sometimes: but I resist it.
Mistress Adrienne, I saw three big cities burning!
Did you know ladies from Philadelphia rode for two days
In wagons to climb a hill where with spyglasses they watched
The war like a horse-pulling contest at a fair.
The man beside me on the train who was sucking the little
Girl's breasts, he was your stable boy, Napoleon. He said
He never had a bad word for you. His little mistress was
Still bare to the waist and before I leapt from the train,
And while he slept, I ran a rod into his eye. I stabbed him
In his brain. She stopped weeping.
Remember that French lullaby where two fleas in a gentleman's
Mustache die like a kiss between the lips of the gentleman
And his mistress. How we laughed at it!
I hope you were not long unconscious there beside the pond.
I just ran away from you, listening the whole night
For your father's hounds. I am
Afraid I split your parasol on your skull. If I
Don't hear from you I will try to understand. Chloe.
Last updated August 11, 2015