Leaving Charlottesville

The poem below by the late Robert Douglas Cushman was first published 15 years ago in FIRST. Cushman wouldn’t want his angle on Monticello to be conflated with Trump’s equations of the Founders with Robert E. Lee (and his Lieutenants). But Cushman’s deep poetic voice belongs in the national conversation along with, say, that of the young black woman who spoke up in the new “Vice” documentary, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” (see here), where she talked straight about Trump’s Golden Ageism and the weight of the past in her town:

“You know he said in one of his rallies ‘If they’d done that 40 years ago, they’d left out on a stretcher.’ [He] okay-ed this activity. This is the face of supremacy. This is what we African Americans deal with everyday. And this has always been the reality of Charlottesville. You can’t stand in one corner of this city and not look at the master sitting on top of Monticello. He looks down on us. He’s been looking down on the city since God knows how long…”

Leaving Charlottesville

There is so much to keep me here.
My son would grow to love his grandparents
and learn something of their life
before they moved here.
His grandfather would tell him stories
as they walked by the pasture
on the way to the school bus.
He’d learn to trace a fox
across leaves edged with frost.

The house on the small hill
seen in the travel ads,
focuses all that takes me away.
The simple lines,
the clock at the entrance,
the octagonal room
all show the designer’s pared intellect.

But the man who listed slavery
as a reason to revolt
forced his slaves to live below grade,
not to be seen when he stood at the window,
to work in a tunnel,
not to be noticed when he passed.
The house is a painted lacquer box
that holds a severed head.
The place haunts us still.

Already snow in the mountains.
Beyond the strip malls now
ancient trees line the fences.
Frost catches the morning light.
I will live fully in the city,
where my child sleeps.

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