Wednesday, November 16, 2011

portrait of sally

i asked "in what universe could the humanity, family integrity, and honor of slave owners count for more than the humanity, family integrity, and honor of slaves?" my answer was that we americans have lived in that universe since the founding of the country and have only recently begun the process of moving beyond its boundaries.     annette gordon-reed the hemingses of monticello 

the portrait of sally, a remarkable piece, should begin as an outline
offering barely a glimpse of a woman-in-the-making—first
a teenager in london: abigail adams murmured to no one in particular
sally's nature is good, and the parisians smiled
nodded and offered tres jolie to look at—while tom took her
shopping and carefully selected outfits after she was left alone
to be saved at sutton's house: inoculated, feverish, muttering nonsense.
not to worry—sally survived, no visible scars.

the paint wet but already fading by the time she arrived back
at the mountain, his home and hers, to pose for 38 years.
sally, the much younger half sister of his beloved dead wife—
resembling her always with her fine carriage and creamy skin—
her loveliness a perfect mixture in the palette of dusky rose
and lily—reigned, a faux wife, her crown shattered, trodden
under the boots of dark-flesh traders, her humanity strangled
by the noose of southern law but revived by her man
the king of monticello.

still her portrait hangs incomplete.

it's difficult to see you, sally. you've become a smudge. i'm sad
to say the picture of you is missing from museums—
in this universe it's starkly nonexistent—stolen
from us before a light sketch could ever be drawn
with this bit of charcoal on this scrap of paper.

but elsewhere out there it exists, sally, i know it exists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Sally poem is phenominal.