blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


PIVOT POINTS  |  Gregory Donovan

Belle Isle

(James River island, site of the Confederate prison camp, Richmond)

If saying makes it so—he thought it might—
he wanted to believe everything said in that whisper
of snow slipping through the chafed branches,
the mottled grey and black branches, their shells
of clear shining lacquer, the red berries and green
holly sharp against the ice-glazed brush. It was
the thin whisper of someone he should know,
unceasing. He had not expected beauty.
It was Belle Isle; beauty was not expected.
Still, it was true, he wanted to believe he could
go on marching, one foot, one foot, marching on
into something of hope, some place
warm. But he was tired, tired and beyond
being cold, he wanted to sit down.

He would be quiet, it would be sudden
Christmas, he would be simply stopping
a moment to take in the quiet and fresh
snowfall in the wood, simply stopping a moment
on his way home, candles in each window
lighting the way home, one foot, one foot bundled
in rags, the other flopping in a torn boot,
the boot of a man shot as he ran for the river.
Or was it artillery that time, a canister blast?
No, it was only a boot, a boot looking for its mate
as they marched away from him there where
he stood on one foot, the other gone to frost,
waiting at the road's edge, watching the prisoners march
away around the bend into sheets of snow, turning
over the page, shuffling through '63 into '64 . . .

Then one foot one foot he was in the trees
and the straggling rear guard moved past
without a sound, entering nothing
but memory and hope ran away, hid her face,
the face of Eve, face of his sister,
face of the one who listens, who knows
his dreams, his nightmares—the dream of the woman
in the purple garden, the nightmare of the man
in the purple maze—the sister who had watched over him,
it seemed, as he chewed another of the dark berries,
nothing but raw turnips once in three days
but the purple berries had helped and were
helping, his tongue had swollen his throat shut,
he could not say prayer's first word, could
only sip a bit of cool air, whispering it in,
just as the serpent had told Eve: you will never die.
The secret name of Eve has always been
Hope, and Hope will never die, sister whose soft voice
was there again now, no one else, whispering
no one else to see now or care, no one to miss,
and just then he could see how it might be

years from now in this place, could see a man
might come walking these woods, he might even be
grieving, a man who thought he hated his life, maybe
grieving without any longer knowing why,
but a man with more than brush in his belly,
who would come across this place, stand here
a moment stopped on the path toward home, which had been
the path of his own perfect escape, where he disappeared
without a trace into windswept snow.
                                                             I am
that man, I walk on Belle Isle, and there
is a cold spot I step into each time, and something
inhabits me there and has given me this to say.

And saying makes it so, and so we hesitate,
he thinks of how he never had a sister,
how I have always wanted a sister, a sister
with a name like Hope, like Charity, and he knows
all that will be coming after him, fearful
at this last beauty before he goes, but listening
when the branches, haloed in the weak sun, shake
in the low wind, the scuffle and clack, waiting,
alone with it, the clear white skin and shining eyes,
the rubbed silk voice saying it's all right now,

whispering right, whispering now, so he sits down.  


 Breathing in the Cool
   Belle Isle
   Isla Bella

   Notes and Acknowledgments
   Levis Reading Loop