On I-65, south of Louisville,
our eyes locked on the totem KRISPY KREME
half lost in a forest of signs, we turned
off the main stream. We’d heard the donut chain’s
disappearing. Tucked in a corner,
behind faux-glass double doors, they lay
fluorescent. We ransacked the last row.
On the road, nostalgia, sugar, sixties
tunes: hit the road, Jack, Ray’s outrage, Martha
and the Vandallas nowhere to run,
nowhere to hide. All afternoon, we picked
our way through Broncos and eighteen wheelers
with sticky hands. At Hodgenville, Lincoln’s
birthplace, we rummaged through
chocolate Lincoln, key chain Lincoln,
Lincoln lunch boxes, his face on every wall
watching us. Named after his grandfather,
Abraham, who was killed by an Indian
his father killed one moment later.
In the museum, a facsimile
of a letter. How once, in Kentucky,
Lincoln witnessed a slave caravan
pass through town. On hands and necks
a web of chains, iron collars chafing.
At that moment, he saw a family sundered
as easily, perhaps, as we imagine
him heft his fabled axe. History
is part cartoon, part bloodied tongue:
Mary Todd’s madness, presidential
depression, the prurience of news
we abhor and buy. What were the headlines—
why did Booth scream, “sic semper tyrannus”?
We pressed play, and Lincoln whirred to life,
1863, Gettysburg: “our fathers
brought forth a new nation, conceived
in liberty…all men created equal….”
What do we know of Lincoln’s mother
the family left, buried in Kentucky?
That she couldn’t read. I once asked my mom
what she’d like remembered of her family.
“That’s nice, sweetheart,” was all she passed on.
In the car, we listened to ’68—
letter-tapes my dad sent home, holed up
in a Saigon hotel during Tet,
angular fear in his cool monotone.
As the tape wound down, he invoked his family’s
names—Mom, Dad, Richard, John, Lila baby,
as if they formed a mantra strong enough
to hold the VC off. How easy to eject
the tape, ease out of our rental’s A/C
into Lincoln’s one-windowed shack,
cradled now in pillared limestone.
We walked inside, then quickly out again.
It seemed wrong to gawk at what had been
just a shell from the elements. Outside, wind creaking
cedars. Here, at Sinking Springs, Lincoln
dunked buckets for water. Then they moved,
and moved again, and he to Springfield,
across the country, to Washington,
and finally to Ford Theater, now
a museum diorama where his head
slumps and Mary’s mouth gapes open
and open, actors even in the balcony.