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'For the Confederate Dead'

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

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K. Hinton

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, 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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