"Asleep in Jesus at Rest"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Dec. 29 2009 7:10 AM

"Asleep in Jesus at Rest"

gravestone epitaph  

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Henri Cole read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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Their names were Victoria, Ebbenezer, Noah,
……………………………..………………........................…..Fannie, Travis, Alex, Pleasant,
William Christmas, and Jane.
.........................................Like father, they labored in exchange for small wooden houses.
Breaking even was a feat.
………………………....................Things were settled when the crops were in.
They were my ancestors and lived along the Pee Dee River,
……………………..…………...…………………..............................…….……under tupelo, oak, and gum,
where wolves made dens
………………………................….("You could smell dem wolves!").
According to the Census, they were mulatto
………….……………..…….......................………………..(Spanish mulato, small mule).
Women died of euremic poisoning.
…….…………………..................…………….Children were stillborn.
Those that lived were sprinkled on their foreheads
……………………..…….........................……………...………….and went to Sunday school,
taught by Mrs. Lillian Ingram,
………………...................…………….in Wolf Pit Township, North Carolina.
One of them wrote a poem:
………………………................…….."There in the boughs, in a tiny nest, are three baby birds
with mouths opened wide."
…………….…………..…..............….When I was born,
I weighed nine pounds of flesh.
…...…………………..................…………Mother's hair fell down
the back of her long neck.
……...………….............;;;………..Tears ran out of her eyes like animals.
Fragrant convolutions from her insides
………………….............;;;..…………..……......…filled the room with the strife of love.
Daddy was on a tour of duty.
……………………….......;.........……...."Remember you got a father," he used to say.
"You weren't born by yourself."

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Henri Cole's most recent book is Touch, which received the Jackson Poetry Prize. He teaches at Ohio State University.

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