The State of Virginia after Southampton: 1831
And now our nights are spent listening to noises,
he writes to his sister, months after hearing the news.
He recalls turning, as the messenger’s dust-trail
drifted north, toward the house his father built,
seeing the blur of his wife moving through the parlor,
his son wrestling the cook’s boy on the porch.
From the field came the usual rustle of tools
and voices. A corn song, a hog call, has often been
the subject of nervous terror, and a cat in the dining room
will banish sleep for the night. He did not look at the field,
at the dark thin shapes he knew he would find there,
bending and turning — they too would hear the news.
Now, he dips his pen and pauses, wanting to end
with some insight. Picturing her frown, he instead
merely inquires again whether Cincinnati
still agrees with her, and whether they’ve had snow.
"The State of Virginia after Southampton: 1831" first appeared in Gettysburg Review, spring 1999 (vol. 12, no. 1).