Turning Fifty in the Confederacy

To live and die in Dixie was never
the plan. Old times here seemed best
forgotten, so down I plowed them.
Heritage, clay. Atrocity, clay.

Not secession; dispossession.
Long Island’s where I was born,
three o’clock on a starry morning,
bleating an American hymn:

there is no here. Away, away.
At twenty-six, pitched what seemed
like camp in a Virginia valley.
First draft, provisional,

now set in sediment. There’s shame
beneath my fingernails,
isotopic signature
of stolen soil in my bones.

I’m made of Dixie. Forgetting’s
the trick of Daniel Emmett’s air,
lifted from Ohio neighbors,
the Snowdens, black musicians.

Dixie may have been a Harlem
farmer who sold slaves south,
and one of them, name unsung,
composed that verse of yearning

to return. Story goes, the Lost Cause
anthem began as a wish
to slip north, passed from author
to fiddler to the white guy who

filed copyright. Look away. Years
wash past in silty muck. Can’t carry
this tune; can’t give it back.
Its burden stuck. Become me.