My sister and I learned about our first war
From the dimly-lit pages of a novel
That we discovered ourselves in the cellar:
I think its title

Was Across the Long Dark Border of the War
Between the States
, and its cover photograph
Showed the face of a handsome young soldier
Divided in half.

The book was about a wealthy family
That was torn apart by Civil War. Delia
Had left her closest kin in Mississippi
And Alabama,

Richard hailed from western Massachusetts.
Delia’s three brothers were all Confederates,
But Dick’s twin brother led a large regiment
For General Grant.

The parents separated for three chapters
And then divorced. The kids shuttled back and forth
Between them, little pawns of the raging wars
Between South and North.

That was the summer our parents went to court
To determine our last name. Things were confused:
After our mother remarried she changed it
And our father sued.

We talked to a sort of king of Civil Court
Who wore a splendid-looking black robe and said
The decision was all ours . . . . But it wasn’t—
We couldn’t decide.

Our parents sat on two sides of one aisle
Staring ahead. That was our Isle of Fates,
That was our own long dark border, our real
War between the States.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 6 Number 3, on page 40
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