'For the Confederate Dead'

Kevin Young i i

Kevin Young was born 1970 in Lincoln, Neb. K. Hinton hide caption

itoggle caption K. Hinton
Kevin Young

Kevin Young was born 1970 in Lincoln, Neb.

K. Hinton

Kevin Young's most recent collection of poems, For the Confederate Dead, explores "the contradictions of our 'Confederate' legacy and the troubled nation where that legacy still lingers." The collection's title work follows.

To mark National Poetry Month, NPR.org is featuring a series of newly published works selected by the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about this and other titles at the academy's New Spring Books list.

For the Confederate Dead

Kevin Young

 

I go with the team also. — Whitman

 

These are the last days

my television says. Tornadoes, more

rain, overcast, a chance

 

of sun but I do not

trust weathermen,

never have. In my fridge only

 

the milk makes sense —

expires. No one, much less

my parents, can tell me why

 

my middle name is Lowell,

and from my table

across from the Confederate

 

Monument to the dead (that pale

finger bone) a plaque

declares war — not Civil,

 

or Between

the States, but for Southern

Independence. In this café, below sea —

 

and eye-level a mural runs

the wall, flaking, a plantation

scene most do not see —

 

it's too much

around the knees, heighth

of a child. In its fields Negroes bend

 

to pick the endless white.

In livery a few drive carriages

like slaves, whipping the horses, faces

 

blank and peeling. The old hotel

lobby this once was no longer

welcomes guests — maroon ledger,

 

bellboys gone but

for this. Like an inheritance

the owner found it

 

stripping hundred years

(at least) of paint

and plaster. More leaves each day.

 

In my movie there are no

horses, no heroes,

only draftees fleeing

 

into the pines, some few

who survive, gravely

wounded, lying

 

burrowed beneath the dead —

silent until the enemy

bayonets what is believed

 

to be the last

of the breathing. It is getting later.

We prepare

 

for wars no longer

there. The weather

inevitable, unusual —

 

more this time of year

than anyone ever seed. The earth

shudders, the air —

 

if I did not know

better, I would think

we were living all along

 

a fault. How late

it has gotten . . .

Forget the weatherman

 

whose maps move, blink,

but stay crossed

with lines none has seen. Race

 

instead against the almost

rain, digging beside the monument

(that giant anchor)

 

till we strike

water, sweat

fighting the sleepwalking air.

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