Saturday, April 17, 2010


 On this day in 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union.  Today, it is simultaneously unthinkable and revered by many who celebrate Virginia's past.  Even the governor of the commonwealth celebrated Virginia's Confederate past with a proclamation.  

I don't understand how someone can revere the very thing that brought this nation to its knees and wrought the bloodiest battles of its history.  Study it, of course.  Learn from it, assuredly. But regard it with pride?  I shake my head sadly.  The very word adopted by the secessionists, "confederate," is defined as a plot by henchmen, an unsavory deed.  That is not my Virginia.  

My Virginia is the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling softly like the spine of the land.  It's the softness of the vowels and flat As spoken by those native to the southern end.  It's the dogwoods exploding in the spring along Skyline Drive and the Beltway.  It's the Southern land cradling the nation's capitol.  It's Monticello, Mount Vernon, Montpelier, those who built and nurtured the nation.  It's the names of rivers and mountain ranges foreign-sounding to a native of the West.  It has more universities than you can shake a stick at, each with its own rich history and personality.  It's an eclectic mix of rich and poor, urban and rural, crowded and cavernous, that threatens to divide itself yet again but won't.  And so I share this poem, celebrating its beauty. Enjoy.  

Virginia Evening   
Just past dusk I passed Christiansburg,
cluster of lights sharpening
as the violet backdrop of the Blue Ridge
darkened. Not stars
but blue-black mountains rose
before me, rose like sleep
after hours of driving, hundreds of miles
blurred behind me. My eyelids
were so heavy but I could see
far ahead a summer thunderstorm flashing,
lightning sparking from cloud
to mountaintop. I drove toward it,
into the pass at Ironto, the dark
now deeper in the long steep grades,
heavy in the shadow of mountains weighted
with evergreens, with spruce, pine,
and cedar. How I wished to sleep
in that sweet air, which filled--
suddenly over a rise--with the small
lights of countless fireflies. Everywhere
they drifted, sweeping from the trees
down to the highway my headlights lit.
Fireflies blinked in the distance
and before my eyes, just before
the windshield struck them and they died.
Cold phosphorescent green, on the glass
their bodies clung like buds bursting
the clean line of a branch in spring.
How long it lasted, how many struck
and bloomed as I drove on, hypnotic
stare fixed on the road ahead, I can't say.
Beyond them, beyond their swarming
bright deaths came the rain, a shower
which fell like some dark blessing.
Imagine when I flicked the windshield wipers on
what an eerie glowing beauty faced me.
In that smeared, streaked light
diminished sweep by sweep you could have seen
my face. It was weary, shocked, awakened,
alive with wonder far after the blades and rain
swept clean the light of those lives
passed, like stars rolling over
the earth, now into other lives.

by Michael Pettit

No comments: