Sunday, December 28, 2008

Meditations on Charles:

“He left.” (That’s all
they said
about Charles.)
Where did the 6 year old slave boy sleep?
Voice X: “On the low ground. On
A pallet on the floor. Colored people
Didn’t have no beds, no shoes - Boys wore
A dress till they were 13. Charles, YOU
wore a dress?”

Charles did you run away
Or were you sold?
Did my great-grandfather trade you for a horse,
Or a cow?
Charles, did you join the Ohio
7th Calvary to fight the Rebel dogs?
Voice X: “The rain was falling in torrents on our camp.”
Charles, were you no better than a dog?
Voice X: “Two hundred dollar reward
Runaway from the undersigned,
On SATURDAY NIGHT last, a NEGRO
MAN, called
CHARLES DUTTON,
Aged about 22 years, about
5 feet 10 inches
high, dark Chestnut color, polite,
when spoken to,
and has
a scar
on one cheek, (He turned the other.)
,--- his clothing
is not recollected; (He was no longer in a dress.)
he has been living with W
H. Bowdle, Esq., (paperman)
Near Cambridge, during the
Year.
The above reward will be given if taken out
Of the State, one hundred if taken in the State
And out of the county, and fifty dollars if ta-
Ken in the county, and in either case lodged
In the Cambridge (Md.) Jail
(Widow) MARY HURLEY
( leasing slaves) Sept. 24, 1856”

Charles did you escape
With Harriet Tubman? Did you see her use her gun?
Did you go to Canada?
What did you think of Pete?

Voice X: “He stayed.”

On the same hill of rocks
Until he died and they buried him there
By the cemetery gate.

Going back
To eight or ten
Trying to look through my eyes then
The fields are grass, picked close by cows but
Empty now and enclosed
By the fencerows grown
Over with wild honeysuckle and multi-
Flora roses, white, but not in bloom. The
Fields are empty, like empty rooms,
You push through a gap
In the tangle of vines and briars,
Because you’re small you can get through,
And then you stand inside the boundaries,
Sides that are fencerows, tall enough
To hide you, out of view, inside
The empty fields.
Like a game board where a pawn is removed.
Charles, where are you?
Are you buried in Oh –
Io?

Voice X: “There’s a
low green valley on
the old Kentucky shore,
 Where I while’d
many happy hours away.

A-sitting and a-singing by the little cabin door,
Where
lived my darling Nelly Gray.

Chorus:
Oh! My darling Nelly Gray, they have taken
you away,
And I’ll ne –
ver see my darling
anymore.

I’m a sitting by the river and I’m weeping all the day,

For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore.

One night I went to see her but
“she’s gone,” the darkies say,
The white
man bound her with his chain,

They have shipped her
down the river
for to wear her life away,

As she toils
in the cotton
and the
cane.”

5 comments:

Mary Beth said...

As I searched my mind for a word meaning "beyond perfection" the tears began to flow. They say, in their saline mingling of sorrow, appreication, and joy more than my tongue ever will.

Ya done good boy!

Dan Dutton said...

Oh thanks, Mary Beth - that means a lot. I've got a ways to go. It's strange how this is working ~ the remembering of the feeling, when I was a child, of being in those enclosed fields was very very strange.

If I had known how strange it was then, I might have been afraid to enter them. The remembering/imagining was very vivid and like a hallucination. I asked my sister Ruth Ann about what it was like when she was a child (she's 15 yrs older than me) & she also remembered them as being very empty, wild places - but not like weed fields - the turf in them was very short.

Seeing them again in reverie was something of a revelation. I know now how I can open areas of the story that had seemed sealed in the unknown.

I think I have one more scene to deal with before
"the battle". I really enjoyed reading the most recent post on "Climbing the family tree". Inspiring.

Mary Beth said...

Thank you for reading my posts! It's very flattering to think someone else might enjoy them.
I'm struggling. It's difficult to be historically correct without becoming so dry that it's all unreadable.

It's also difficult to review the Reports, letters, and journals and decided which to include. I never could have been an editor! So many men and women, "common folk," were word smiths. How I envy their command of language!

We go down tomorrow to visit my mother-in-law in San Francisco. Mom is 83 and requires 24 hour care as Louie Body Dementia has robbed her of the memory of how to walk, swallow, and speak.

When she was still at home, before she grew restless and violent, she would seek to find a party where all her friends were waiting for her. She'd speak of a feast. Her family, the priests and nuns she befriended, and her husband were waiting out in the street to take her there.

I'd like to believe that Mom's spirit is at the party but that her body forgot to stop living. It would be just like her to keep going no matter what. Mom was always a doer, the strongest and finest woman I've ever known.

Now she is just a huddled little shell.

We said goodbye back in 2002 after one of her strokes left her pulse at 15 and her body temp. at 72. I stood at her side in ER explaining the sounds coming from the various machines and telling what I thought she might need to hear. Somehow I managed to tell her that it was ok. If it was time she needed to go ahead and go.

As she recovered, she laughed with me about my lecture, "Walk into the light!" Her hand squeezed mine as we rolled with laughter, our faces covered with tears. That's one of the moments I cling to when I feel like screaming, "I WANT MY MAMA!"

SBD said...

I don't know where to begin, by relishing the beauty of Dan's poem...or the eloquent thoughts of Mary Beth. The past few days I have reverted to a seven year old (playing with my grandson, non-stop)...I took a moment to catch up on Dan's blog....I would add, this seems so far fetched now...we sang every morning at Caney Fork, the one room school, and we always sang My Darling Nelly Gray...and more importantly, I never knew the significance of this hauntingly beautiful song....
The meadows of my youth were smooth and picked bare most of the time by the herd of Herefords....but it was a wild tangle from the fox den to Aunt Lou's. The area I loved most.

Dan Dutton said...

I'm thinking now that this song, sang a little humorously by daddy, (I left out the verse with the "little red canoe" that he seemed to particularly like.) but poignant also ~ was part of his way of coming to terms with the meaning of "slavery in the family".