Lincoln, leaving Springfield, 1861,
boards a train with a salute: but it is weak.
To correct it, he slides his hand away
from his face as if waving, as if brushing
the snows of childhood from his eyes.
The train is coming east. In the window
Lincoln watches his face. You’ll grow old
the moment you arrive, he says to this face.
But you will never reach great age. The train
speeds like the cortical pressure wave
in the left lateral sinus, say, a bullet
in the skull. Then he will have his salute.
Then they will love him. Then eternity will slow, fall
like snow. Then the treaty with huge silence
which he, his face exhausted, must sign.
About this poem:
"This poem took more than seven years to write. It began with Lincoln's last speech to Springfield, which I found in a small book at a library sale in Pueblo, Colorado. The book had been checked out once, in 1917. These points of contact with Lincoln's words—from me to the lone reader to Lincoln himself—ignited my need to capture here the passage of his farewell through time."