Listen to Podcast Interview with Grace Cavalieri on The Poet and the Poem


…and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.
—James Baldwin

We've always been foolish about legacy,
but even the trees don't decide how
they'll be remembered. Will it be for the pleasure
of an afternoon of shade or as an obstacle
in the path of progress? They have no choice.
And you and I are less than the trees.

Imagine a scene in New Jersey.
The woods, the underbrush. An Aaron Burr,
his gun still smoking. A Hamilton
lying on the ground waiting to die
the next day. Burr's legacy shot to hell.

Just a few years before, together they saved Levi
Weeks. Kept him from hanging for killing
his girlfriend. But in this moment, with the trees
watching and the brush becoming redder,
no one cares about that history,
except Levi.

Weeks moved on to Mississippi. Built
houses for the rich. Mansions with names
and plantations attached. Like Auburn
with its tall columns and portico. A spiral
staircase and fancy woodwork. Stephen Duncan
stands on (t)his porch and avoids thinking about
the shacks out back. Doesn't care to
see his young property, James and
Joseph, laughing, playing, running races
before they go off to the fields.

He considers his empire. Counts
his acres and slaves, his money
and magnolias. The buying and selling
of children and cotton. Calculates the cost
of goodness, the price of being remembered.

Burr's bullet shattered a rib. Hamilton's
shot found a blameless red oak.
The bullets, the rib, the oak had no say.

And you and I are less than the trees
who are sawed and sanded,
stained and polished,
heirloomed and remembered.

In the end, you may be mulch.
In the end, I may be splintered,
or we all may be consumed
in a fire of forgetting.

Le Hinton
From Sing Silence