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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Remembering American Poet Musician Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) Part II

An excerpt from "Four Poems for Sidney Lanier" by Erik La Prade, from MOVIE LOGIC: Poems,La Prade's forthcoming book of poetry from Poets Wear Prada:

Henry Ritter
Ema Ritter
Dema Ritter
Sweet Potatoe
Caroline Bostick
Daughter of
Bob & Suckey Catlen
Born at Social Circle
Died at Wetumka 1852

Four Poems for Sidney Lanier

Mid-August. Here, at the confluence of the Coosa and
The Tallapoosa, the Alabama River forms.
West of the river is the city cemetery, where
My people are buried. The oldest
Graves in Section G have no names or stones,
Only humps of rock sticking up from the ground.
Other names are recorded in the cemetery books.
The sun is hot and I don’t have a hat.
My great aunt walks back to the car
While I stand here, reading the tombstone
Of a much-named nine-year old girl —
“Henry Ritter,” “Ema Ritter,” “Dema Ritter,”
“Sweet Potatoe,” “Creamatarter,” real name:
“Caroline Bostick” — dead before
I was born. Her gravestone nicknames are
Scratched over like grooves on
A wax cylinder. My father recited those
Names to me when I was a kid.
Now, I can almost hear
The voices of schoolchildren echoing
Among the graves.
My aunt has lived her whole life in this small town,
And only escaped dying young with the
Help of a White lawyer.
Nothing I write now will
Change how these people — Black or White —
Lived their small-town lives.
Sweat covers my forehead. I need a drink.

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