Anne & Alpheus 1842-1882

Anne Waters

December 24, 1842

Too much killing.
We live by death
and now the messy
deaths of animals
have entered the
house, and I cannot
hide her. Four nights
of fever and now

a fifth. A dry cough
wastes her little strength
and nothing helps.
Helpless, we watch her
blur and fade.
I would give back
all the blood and
flesh and become
like cattle grazing
in the passive grain
if I could pick
her up and shake
the awful brightness
from her eyes,
her mind flaring
while the body dies.
I look out at
my great oak tree,
but its heart is empty
and its arms full
of brittle air.
In the woods I
see the falling snow
and hear the hunting owl.

Anne Waters

December 21, 1862

Dreamed I had my baby
held her in a blanket
before the fire
and rubbed her
arms and legs
until she moved again,
and then began to cry.
I was suddenly
filled up,
like something solid
had entered my body,
or an arm lost long ago
had returned
to swell the empty sleeve and
drive away the phantom pain.
We rocked and rocked
before that fire
which blazed impossibly,
devouring the cold
and pushing back the dark
around the house.
I ran to tell the news,
but when I lifted
the cover there was
only the piglet I’d
tried to save last spring,
already cold and still.
Then I was myself again.
What was here
was still around me,
what was gone
was absent as before.
Outside a cold rain
fell blankly on the roof
and in the empty fields.


Alpheus Waters

July 12, 1882

I eight again,
in my first boots
tramping about, setting
snares and biting traps
more animal than boy,
more like someone struggling
than one who is beginning
to live the life he loves.
At night I pick cotton
around a log fire or
sit by the barn roasting
potatoes while my
father fires tobacco.
By day I haul water
with cart and oxen
from Warren’s spring,
or go on horseback
with a bag of corn
down to Stephen’s mill
on Whippoorwill Creek,
or listen to Uncle Josh Horn
whose preaching at Oak Grove
strangely moves me so that
a life from the dead
rushes through me
and changes me.
After the sermon I
go up to my cousins
Robert and Tim
who will die at Shiloh
but they are afraid
and run away.

Who is this boy
has fathered
forth the man
I have become?
The sixty years
between us bends
and shifts and doubles
back like a river
running quietly before me.
I wait to discover in him,
what I once was
and what I still may be.

© Joe Survant