(for Climbing the Walls, Hudson Valley MOCA, May 2020)
John Bannister Tabb floated in fever
Looking down through the solid-seeming bubble of the living
To the dead.
He lay suspended on a peninsula, Point Lookout, Maryland,
A Union Prison Camp for him and thousands of Johnny Rebs.
A narrow smitch of sand and clay built up by the silt
Of the Potomac and eroded by the Chesapeake Bay.
Musician and poet John Bannister Tabb lay fevering in his bed,
Rhymes and motets running through his head.
As his tide began to ebb, this scion of Virginia wished that he was dead.
Will a First Family sire survive a Yankee coop doled out in breaths
Of bodies rotting under hot canvas?
His only hinge on hope is a return to a war broken manor
Out in the sunshine beyond his fenced in fever dream.
A future where a Confederate veteran might be playing
Bright major chords in progressions paced with the river James.
But Tabb in his fevered state could not out-picture
The shifting mass of ashen faces and Confederate coats,
Like shore birds huddled and darting across this bitter beach.
Then just as Tabb was melting into soul,
A silver chill straightened every sinew in his frame.
Death was not shaking him, but some metallic shell burst of life.
The parceled breath of flute music seemed to call him by name.
A fellow prisoner had kept his flute when he was taken.
It was Sidney Lanier, poet and musician up from Macon.
John Bannister Tabb sat up in his bed.
Heart and fever still pounding through his head,
But this son of Virginia had risen from the dead.
When at times a cool breeze clears
The hurricane air over Point Lookout today,
It’s only by a favor from time that this
Aching to be part of the main sandy strip
Still rises above the tidewaters to be soothed.
For a short spell of spring on a summer evening
Little boys will bet they see Delmarva.
Lovers, who do not fear to swagger for one another,
Will swear they see Atlantic pleasure boats
Laughing and lighted off the Virginia cape.
Robert Edward Miss has pursued a career in media and the arts. But his life’s passion has been poetry and storytelling. In 2021, his latest collection of poetry, Prospero’s Glove , was published by Kelsay Books, available on Amazon.com. His early experiences are reflected in many of his poems. www.robertedwardmiss.com