A pile of lightwood on the
Neighbors on horseback, and the slaves,
With teeth as white as eyeballs, rank on rank,
Watched on the pyre the form wrapped in a shroud,
Lonely among the lolling tongues of flames—
The smoke streamed, trailing in a saffron cloud,
The greedy noise of fire grew loud,
Then, “whiff,” the shroud burned with a flare:
The dead man’s eyes looked down
Like china moons upon the crowd.
They saw him slowly shake his head,
The thing denied that it was dead,
While from the blacks arose a babblement of prayer.
Surely the head must stop—
Not till the fire caved!
Then from the very top
The loosened poll came with a leap,
Bounding three times, it took the river-steep;
Down, down the river bank—all they
Ran after it like school boys for a ball.
God! How the thing could roll!
It seemed the devil kicked the leaping poll.
At last it stopped at bay,
Staring across a tidal flat,
Where spider lilies frightened day.
They buried it within a lonesome
With trembling hands, beneath a foreign stone.
But there were some who said
It moved its lips;
And when they went away, the earth stirred
And they heard it moan.
Now it comes leaping down the tunnel roads
Where the moss hangs like stalactites,
Screaming out curses, snapping at the toads;
Negroes who pass there on the moonless nights
Behind them hear a sound that stops their breath.
The keen wind whistles through its teeth,
And the white skull goes bounding by
Looking for Death.
Since I had seen the city, in the time
We waited through the tenseness of the hours,
While nerves were zither strings
For fate to jar upon:
All through that night we counted old St. Michael’s chimes
Now three o’clock—
The bells spoke as they had on marriage days,
With high and silver-happy tongues
Yet somehow they had gained an irony,
For out across the quiet April bay
Grim, new-built forts grinned at old Sumter
Through the morning mist—
And no sound yet! Then—
Thirty minutes like a life too long;
A red flash dirked the night;
I thought a voice cried, “DOOM”;
That was the gun that killed a million men.