Mary Virginia

I thought of Jennie Wade
when I watched city workers
operate heavy equipment
to remove an equestrian statue
of Robert E. Lee.

She would have lived past twenty
if Lee did not direct his army
into Pennsylvania.

Think of all the bread dough
she would have kneaded.

Jennie might have married
and had her own children
instead of helping her sister Georgia Anna
take care of a new born.

Jennie was first buried in the back yard
then the cemetery at the German Reform Church
and at last moved to Evergreen Cemetery
about a year after Lincoln gave his famous address.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney


Jennie Wade at Wikipedia


We sought to liberate the slave
from the cruelness
of sun, field and lash

but did not consider
the eternal enmity
of former owners in defeat.

We could have swept
the Old Dominion state
clean into the ocean.

Cleared it
of plantation owners
and the white working class.

The radical Republicans
desired something
akin to that response.

Mr. Lincoln desired
a new testament ending
rather than an old one.

So we honored
the terms Grant delivered
and filled no more coffins.

But it was we
who suffered future retribution
for simply breathing free air.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney

Born Outside Chicago

In Albuquerque Lincoln is not someone
who gets spoken about much.

Not even on his birthday
which has been compacted into President’s day.

His name is remembered
for the Lincoln County cattle wars

which included Billy the Kid
and sheriff Pat Garret.

It does not matter that the Civil War
was fought as far west as the Rio Grande.

Our big battles of Valverde Ford and Glorieta Pass
are barely skirmishes compared to the fighting

in Virginia and Tennessee
and mostly unknown to the average citizen.

I doubt Lincoln ever sent an official communication
to Edward Canby the Union commander in New Mexico.

I am sure the War department
sent orders and directives from Cameron and Stanton.

Every couple years I make the two day drive
to Springfield Illinois to refresh myself on all things Lincoln.

And then on to Santa Claus Indiana for his boyhood home
and on to Hodgeville Kentucky to visit his birth place.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Peaking at Fifteen Million Acres

Forty acres and a mule
was part of General Sherman’s
special order fifteen
to allot land to some
some freedmen.

Sherman encouraged
his army quartermaster
to give mules
to the new farmers
to increase their chance
of success.

The freedmen expected
that land to be theirs
from that day forth
with the force of law
and the Union army
behind the order.

But special order fifteen
was a war order
and peace came
a few months after
it was issued.

With the end of war
Lincoln was assassinated
opening the way
for Tennessee’s Johnson
to be president
and politics to alter
what Sherman wrought
in good faith.

Title of the land
was not issued to the freedmen
and they were told
that they were now paid laborers
instead of land owners
(instead of slaves).

Over the next fifty years
African Americans used their wages
to purchase unsettled land
in the Southern states
that once formed the Confederacy.

They had to purchase their mules too.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul could assemble anything that stayed in place.
He lost his job at General Motors.

His car got seventy-two miles from Detroit
when it burst into flame. His thumb got him home to Denver.

Riding shotgun through Iowa he developed a toothache.
It went away when they crossed the wide Missouri into Nebraska.

His thumb malfunctioned outside of Lincoln.
He blamed it on McClellan’s Slows though it made no sense.

Outside Fort Morgan he saw himself driving to Detroit
three months earlier to start a new job.

Paul was not sure his new place in Denver was a slum.
Plum paint on old overcrowded buildings left him in doubt.

He exhausted his savings bringing his building up to code.
GoFundMe paid for green apple paint.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


My heart goes out
to Lincoln
his ability
to avoid the bottle
and keep his eye
on the prize
while creating
a new prize

He issued an order
to preserve the Union
with no idea
all the amputated limbs
if laid out end to end
would stretch
from the White House
to San Francisco Bay.

Stewards tasked
with keeping
feral pigs and other
from gnawing
the arrayed limbs
are never considered
by historians.

I regularly see
Whitman’s ghost
about Washington
reading letters
and poems
soothing the wounded
as doves and pigeons
flock to their
park bench
when they pull open
a brown bag lunch.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney