In light of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend—and what is probably always seething beneath the life of the United States—here are a few lines from my Civil War poem, To the House of the Sun. After speaking with a few captured Confederate soldiers in Washington DC, one character has these handful of questions to ask. (While not mentioned, slavery is the original sin hovering here, and which still covers everything we do.)
“How will any of us talk of this War when it’s over? Should the North win, will a man in Pennsylvania really feel so much pride, when going down to Virginia—or will a Virginian really feel satisfaction when walking Northern streets, should the South win?
That’s how it is now—
how it has to be now, for the newspapers & the public:
they’ve got to make generals divine & their soldiers into heroes:
& the dates of the battles:
& the ground:
& how the weather was—these things matter now—
but will they in the future: will we only focus on the understandable bitterness of our mother’s brother & our father’s uncle & our family’s old hometown—or will we find something better to do with all the memories: & will we rise somewhere in the air, where we can forget ourselves, finally:
& forget what our families did:
& forget what was done to them,
& instead see them all as God might, forgiven?
Or will the making of peace be like moving two mountains, for these people?”