V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




All roads led to the Engine House on that third day.
All of the players who would become prominent
during the next few years were there, to make sure
the deck remained stacked.  After John Brown’s son,
Watson Brown, had gone outside with a white flag
and was shot dead, it was clear why they had come.
Brown and his men had attacked a federal arsenal,
which was a federal crime.  But it was imperative
that he and his men be tried by the State of Virginia. 
First to arrive was Col. Robert E. Lee, with a detachment
of Marines, whose initial act was to close the saloons
to keep the town drunks from shooting each other.
There was Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, who parleyed with Brown,
offering to cut a deal.  There was Lt. Israel Greene,
who led the final assault, cornering “Captain Brown”
and heroically slashing him with his ceremonial saber.
Down from Ohio for the interrogation came Clement
Vallandigham, soon to become King of the Copperheads.
A major, Thomas J. Jackson, soon to be Stonewall,
was named head of security, in case the Abolitionists
attempted a rescue.  All of them would make rank
soon enough.  All had assembled at Harper’s Ferry
to make sure the road ended at the scaffold.  Brown
spoke with them all—except for an actor named
John Wilkes Booth, who traveled to Charles Town
on December 2nd, and borrowed a militia uniform
so that he might have a good view of the gallows.
Last to arrive, in the final days, was Silas Soule,
New England firebrand, Railroad conductor,
notorious Jayhawker, who had sprung Free-Staters
from flimsy Missouri jails, and who, years later,
as a cavalry officer in Colorado, while the Cheyenne
were flying an American flag over Sand Creek,
refused to fire on women, children, and old men—
and who was assassinated for testifying against
his commanding officer.  Soule, in disguise now,
sweet-talked his way into Brown’s cell, with a plan
for busting him out.  The execution was a week away.
Brown listened carefully, thanked Soule, and declined.
The two old comrades sat there, reminiscing about
the early days in Kansas.  “I cannot help but notice,”
Brown said to his friend, “that you have a few warts
on some of your fingers.”  Soule allowed it to be true.
“I’ve been told you can witch them off,” Brown said,
“by digging up a mole, and squeezing it in your hand
until its breath is gone.”  “I could never tolerate that,”
Soule replied. “I’ll stay with my present afflictions.”
“Gentlemen,” the jailer called out, “your time is up.”
“I shall soon be conversant with a mole or two,”
John Brown said, rising and extending his hand
for a last time.  “I shall pass along your regards.”


© by Jared Carter


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