John Knoepfle - “Bath”

and when lincoln came here
that was august 16 th 1858
he felt like his age was something
hanging on him he remembered
surveying the town 22 years earlier
in deep wilderness then and river timber
how he staked out the first plat
with his own hands he said

and these old men around him
they were as young as himself
27 years ago in 1831
messmates in the black hawk war

the crowd heard him with respect
tell all of them why slavery
was an evil thing

bath is trailers and shacks
and make-do livings anyway you can
full of particular folk
who like pink flamingos in driveways
and peonies on the lawns
cradled in used tractor tires
things good for looking at
they tell you if you want to know

lincoln had six years
beyond his stump speech at bath
six years for the history of the world

this year in late spring
the children will go down the river bank
midmorning on memorial day
as they have since the civil war
and set their little boats
drifting on the illinois
with cargoes of flowers

Bath” appeared in Poems from the Sangamon (University of Illinois Press, 1985)Copyright © 1985 by John Knoepfle.