Antebellum House Party
To make the servant in the corner unobjectionable
Furniture, we must first make her a bundle of tree parts
Axed and worked to confidence. Oak-jawed, birch-backed,
Cedar-skinned, a pillowy bosom for the boss infants,
A fine patterned cushion the boss can fall upon.
Furniture does not pine for a future wherein the boss
Plantation house will be ransacked by cavalries or Calvary.
A kitchen table can, in the throes of a yellow-fever outbreak,
Become a cooling board holding the boss wife’s body.
It can on ordinary days also be an ironing board holding
Boss garments in need of ironing. Tonight it is simply a place
For a white cup of coffee, a tin of white cream. Boss calls
For sugar and the furniture bears it sweetly. Let us fill the mouth
Of the boss with something stored in the pantry of a house
War, decency, nor bedevilled storms can wipe from the past.
Furniture’s presence should be little more than a warm feeling
In the den. The dog staring into the fireplace imagines each log
Is a bone that would taste like a spiritual wafer on his tongue.
Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours
In the manner of an ottoman whereupon the boss volume
Of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” can be placed.
Antebellum residents who possessed the most encyclopedic
Bookcases, luxurious armoires, and beds with ornate cotton
Canopies often threw the most photogenic dinner parties.
Long after they have burned to ash, the hound dog sits there
Mourning the succulent bones he believes the logs used to be.
Imagination is often the boss of memory. Let us imagine
Music is radiating through the fields as if music were reward
For suffering. A few of the birds Audubon drew are now extinct.
The Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, and Labrador duck
No longer nuisance the boss property. With so much
Furniture about, there are far fewer woods. Is furniture’s fate
As tragic as the fate of an axe, the part of a tree that helps
Bring down more upstanding trees? The best furniture
Can stand so quietly in a room that the room appears empty.
If it remains unbroken, it lives long enough to become antique.