At Forrest Park
You pricked your way through Tennessee:
A thorn in the Union side, you spurred
your way back to Memphis,
and rode your horses right into the lobby
of the best hotel in town,
astonishing the Yankee soldiers occupying its plush
chairs with their behinds, and their time
with the local paper Grant hijacked.
The commotion you caused
on the cobblestone boulevards,
especially as your saber rent
the blue Southern sky, drew the cheers
of the town's finest citizens.
Later, they threw you a parade. A brass band
played "Dixie" to celebrate
the accelerated music of your heartbeat and gall.
Crowds rebel-yelled, roustabouts pick-pocketed,
and horses snorted and neighed in the dust.
But the day,
the glory, have left precious little
behind, battlefield blood
has long since annealed into salty clay
till nothing but the bone
of free land remains; and all the agony,
the honor and the dishonor,
are fodder now for videos and books.
Erected by your countrymen,
your Parisian-forged effigy
faces the subdued
red brick of an abandoned Sealtest factory, and your horse
treads marble, not crimsoned sod.
Your face is gilded with consternation,
as if you were asking
directions in your own hometown.
Time and traffic have tattooed
the border of your saddle. All metal and composure
in this poorly kept park,
where can you ride now?
The men and women who cut
through to reach Union Avenue
are the descendants of those whose enslavement
you defended, and the flag you defied furls
and unfurls like a contented cat's tail
over the tiny square of land ceded to you.
Only the squirrels here,
and occasionally the weather, are still
grey; there's a ragtag line
of mismatched lampposts, and the hedges are clipped
spare, and look starved.
A skyline rises at your elbow:
barely acknowledges you now.
Family Restaurant, with its "home-cooked soul-food,"
glittering in white-washed promise,
intrude, while the river,
under the bluff a mile off,
rushes away to New Orleans.
I, too, intrude;
and if I can't quite
make my peace with you, General,
I can bring you this news:
that all around us, Sir,
the nation still suffers
its successes and defeats,
that we remain at war among ourselves.
Slavery has ended, but
the gangstas don't care
about old battles fought here -
their latest ambitions and bloodlusts
will rename these streets.
Maybe they, like you, will teach history a
though it's hard to read one now
in the glazed-over eyes of the naked windows
of washed-up clothing stores
and run-down shoe shops
on the failed Mid-America Mall.
Facades of fallen buildings look like grit
teeth on unlovingly reconstructed Beale St.,
where waitresses and guides talk proudly
of brand-new cafes and museums of Southern culture.
Only the eponymous Mr. Schwab in his general
keeps the void at bay,
retailing merchandise ancient
as his stories. It amounts to this:
War, when it comes,
is fast and furious, forgetfulness
slow but sure;
as the bumper sticker says,
You are stuck here forever,
without so much as a ghost to talk to.
is sick and tired of the past.
Day after day,
her city limits reach farther
and farther away.
This confrontation of Allen Tate's "Ode to the Confederate
and Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead."
is ©1997 by Don Share