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Pilgrimage


ISSUE:  Summer 2005

 
Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
    its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
    Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
    as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
    above the river’s curve of loss—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi’s empty bed.
    Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
    on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;  

they must have seemed like catacombs,
    in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
    listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
    of all the living things in this place?     

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
    Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
    in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference,  relive
    their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
    preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
    were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
    in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river’s gray.
    The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
    Prissy’s Room. A window frames

the river’s crawl toward the Gulf.  In my dream
    the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.

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