IN THE SILENCE OF THE MIGRATED BIRDS

"Lincoln"

-for George Buss

Innocuous giant, sharp-kneed and rawboned,
prone to bad hair days and cowlicks, wary of combs,
even on mornings photographers came to capture
your haggard face, crow-footed and creased,
your grizzled whiskers prematurely gray,
your mountainous wart in its right place,
so that we may gaze upon your image now and say,
So this was Lincoln, pauper turned president,
seed sown in prairie loam, once a splitter of rails,
bearded messiah of the West, father of a political party,
voice of the mute plebeian, harbinger of freedom,
champion of the commoner, craver of knowledge,
epitome of honesty, skilled spinner of anecdotal yarn,
both teetotaler and master of the drunkard's humor
(that of the burlesque),
subject to fits of thunderous laughter and spells of silent
gloom,
you who were afflicted by premonitions of death,
by dreams in which you saw your own lifeless body
lying cold and still in state, these visions made more
terrifying
by the fact that you were always a believer in the occult,
a hypochondriac, an insomniac, a man of two minds,
some days blissful and pious, other days somber and
irreverent,
boarder in the hostels of joy and despair,
a weary horse forced to pull the Herculean weight of a war
for four years, without rest, pacing worrier, hands clasped
behind broad back, eyes sunk deep in abysmal sockets,
temples pounding from migraines, consoling widows
and bereft mothers even as you mourned the death of your
own boy.
And then an iron horse came for you through April rain,
a funereal train draped in black cerecloth and wilting lilacs.
Arriving vacant, it departed with a sole passenger,
bound for the far shore of a pastoral ocean.
For a fortnight the silence of the sleeping towns
between Washington and Springfield
was pierced by the sound of a whistle
the white-faced mourners had never heard before,
the pitch of which had been too high for them to hear
before you were called home to rest.