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I explore forgotten rubble / to find your ancient footprints

near river rocks and steady flowing waters,

 which run as deeply as our common blood



Searching for my Great Grandmother at Stonewall

(For my great grandmother Mary Lewis Farrar)


By Beverly Fields Burnette

Part 1



They call you "Grandma"

(the seven children of your only daughter)~

but they,

the ones who owned your flesh

for the cooking and the washing,

called you Aint Mary.


I know you by the messages

that I heard on cold night by open fireplaces,

or summer eyes on breezy porches.

They, my mama and my aunts,

described your early advent to this place,

You came here with the Lewis Family

from a nearby town called Louisburg.

Your arrival as a slave girl

collided with the very date, April 9, 1865

that Lee surrendered

at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

You were a mere girl of thirteen,

Perhaps they told me that it was your date of birth, as well~

(I don’t recall),

that made the date more special.

That’s how you said you always knew the moment

that you brought our family’s lineage

to this Rocky Mound . . .

now know as Rock Mount . . .

t’was not your choice.


I’ve always strained to see the shadow

of our early life of slavery there,

the place they now call Stonewall.

I’ve peered from swift moving auto

streaking down highways to “new day’ destinations;

but now I stop to look up close,

to ramble through thick vines

for a past that few are searching to recall. 


I explore forgotten rubble

to find your ancient footprints

near river rocks and steady flowing waters,

which run as deeply as our common blood.

I survey objects that may have held your sight,

or sand you may have sifted in a time

when your own breath was merely a vapor

to the ones who held your walking papers.


I could not have known you closely

for our times did not find overlapping years,

but you knew that I would come to see your face,

would walk this distance to your time and place

we are linked together over scores of year

by tinkled veins.


Part 2


The restorators prop up fine paintings

of southern planters and their ladies.

Parades of antebellum connoisseurs

magnify southern showcases, like your Stonewall.

When he inherited it,

so did you . . .

now I.


Restorers now stir paints

to put it back

to look like time left no touch,

but they fail to look

past new window panes

to your meager hut out back,

which still stand like noble ancient ruins~

a slave’s  ignored existence.


They seldom excavate the unnamed tools

of your dwelling place.

Polished silver and fine porcelain

merit positions of high holding

on well carved mantels.

The cracked and partly buried

that could have been your dinner plate

lies crushed beneath the vehicles

of their renovations.

I know your spirit roams out back,

as it did more than a century past,

when chains clamped tightly on your soul,

and clanged loudly in your ear.

It’s worthy of note

how mortar withstands centuries,

while mortals quickly pass to unseen earthless planes.

The north winds moan your slave song on a silent night

through paneless windows

while doors clash like cymbals on rusty hinges.


Part 3


I glimpse the wispy shadows of your days of “freedom,

hands hidden behind your back

in obedient servitude,

though in your solid frame,

in your unbroken spirit

I see your hidden pain.


I step inside the tall, white stately doors,

once closed to me,

and state my claim to proud ancestry.

Few written words await my starving fingertips,

my greed eyesight

in their new expedition for your path..

A few ragged photographs leak out bits of knowledge

from family albums buried deep in closets.

I track you down

to learn your muted story,

to whisper mine to you,

and to snatch from the last ancestral mind

the precious morsels of a nearly forgotten time. 


Like Haley in his own odyssey,

names from family stories

told in dark of night

are born out in true historic clues

from casual documents

now handed out at tourist centers.


And I now mount the wide-eyed ride

from here to Stonewall

with no thought of my surrender.

I cross a mere century and more

to touch your trail

and the clock does not erode

my quest

to know.

posted 13 February 2007

Beverly Fields Burnette is a storyteller (current President of the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers), a poet and school social worker. Her programs/performances consist of fun, creative ways of combining cultural insights with storytelling/folktales, and original and historical poetry for children and/or general audiences. She has led character education, self-esteem and drug prevention programs for churches and schools. Ms. Burnette enjoys teaching and telling folktales in the guise of Harlem Renaissance folklorist/anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Burnette is published in several national poetry anthologies. In 2001 and 2003 she wrote poems for the National Public Radio/PRI program "A Season's Griot", and in 2003 read her own poem on this program. She often collaborates/performs with other storytellers, drummers/musicians and poets.

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Related files: Search for Black Men: Vietnam Post-Mortem  Searching for my Great Grandmother at Stonewall  Voices of the Culture   Artichoke Pickle Passion