Eugene Platt: Poetry : August 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: As proclaimed in the foreword of my coming-of-age novel “Saint Andrews’ Parish”: “I count it a blessing of the first magnitude: Being born in Charleston, South Carolina, and growing up in that part of it known as Saint Andrew’s Parish. ‘The Parish,’ as many referred to it, was an idyllic place for a boy to come of age in the 1940s and 1950s. A happy childhood there continues to inform much of my work.”

Three Poems

A Passion Play
(Scene: Appomattox Court House, Palm Sunday 1865)

In the troubled privacy of a tattered tent,
General Lee got off his knees and knew
what he must do to please a wrathful God.
Even in the darkness before dawn,
a true leader can see that destiny
may be delayed but not denied.

The Rebel spirit which had soared
over Fort Sumter was at last subdued.
Defeat was a fact, surrender imminent,
capitulation as certain as any prophecy of Isaiah.
Among the Confederate troupers assembled
at Appomattox, only pride had survived intact,
a pride that had ever denied the inevitable,
a pride that had never permitted rehearsal
of the passion play about to begin.

The curtain rose on Palm Sunday,
a circumstance some suppose to be coincidence.
The site’s natural scenery was right:
gentle hills,      open fields,      a wood
filled with blossoming dogwood,
and here and there a split-rail fence.
Awaiting a cue from Lee were the relatively few
surviving players he was about to surrender
in order to save their lives
even if it broke their hearts.
They were as grey as what they wore.
In the wings with Grant were several times as many
players in less tattered costumes of blue.
They held rifles and sabers,
guidons and battle flags, too.

When the proverbial cast of thousands was in place
and the only props missing were palm fronds,
Lee, the leading man in this real-life drama,
rode in, not on a never-ridden-before donkey,
but not cocky either,
just too proud to be too humble.

Millions have been moved by this image
of a man at the heart of their history.
And well into a new millennium
curtain calls continue, reviewers rave,
wherever Southern is spoken.

Love Poem for a Dying Wife

Do not slip away while we sleep,
your frame faltering from months of medicine
and malignancy, your slenderness curled into an S
beneath a floral quilt we found on our honeymoon
so long ago at that sweet little store in Savannah,
the quilt like a sampler of the real bouquets
that much too soon will be strewn around an urn
of your ashes in an otherwise sterile funereal room. 

Do not slip away while we sleep,
before I can say I love you once more.
Although in all the years we’ve slept together,
back to belly, belly to back, 
I never heard you burp or snore,
now at night I worry when dwindling hours pass
and you do not make a peep or keep still
when normally you would stir.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

I could not bear having to fear
I had missed a sigh of goodbye;
I could not bear not to hear
a weak, whispered final farewell.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

I need to know the moment you cross the bar— 
as Tennyson (one of the poets whom with wine
and candlelight we read together, entwined in bed)
said so eloquently to console the bereaved.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

It is a journey each of us must take alone, I know;
but please just let me go with you to the boat.
I would truly dread not being there for you
as you put into the deep to join the dead.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

Although the faith we share assures us
we shall meet again “In the sweet by-and-by,”
the interim of absence, the pain of being apart,
would be magnified and I inconsolable
if denied the solace of saying goodbye.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

Would that I could stay awake all night.
I need so much to know the moment you leave,
to savor those last precious seconds
before I must begin to grieve.
Do not slip away while we sleep.

Note: Lyrics from The Sweet By-and-By, S. Fillmore Bennett

Visitation Rights

The winters of Upstate New York
are long, but never last till June.
The snow which closed your school today,
a school I’ve never seen, I’m sorry to say—
this snow shall melt and soften earth,
promote the growth of fantastic forms
of life in yellow, green, and white.

Then, one sun-filled morning sometime soon,
allow yourself to wake and see
the first forsythia of spring—
and beneath budding trees the tracks
of a unicorn a lot like you.
Follow it in your heart to a place
where families like ours never part.

Way down here in South Carolina,
where snow and unicorns are rare,
it’s always winter without you.
To cope with the soul-chilling cold,
I’ve learned to burn a cord of oak
and count the days until you come
for the summer visit we await year after year.