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Winter/Spring 2019

The Dust of John Wilkes Booth

 

by Mark Stein


 

1. 511 10th St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

 

Henry Hawk, Actor


 
I did not hear the shot.
Only the laughter dying
too soon.
Some fool caught up in the bunting
drunk no doubt
shouting something.
 
I did not think of Lincoln even then.
Only my soliloquy ruined
by this man brandishing
a dagger.
 
Even then I did not think.
Only saw
the man approaching me
saw his swagger
saw he wanted center stage
saw I knew
this man.
 
I ran.
 

*  *  *


 
my mother never brought me here
to the door behind the stage
leading to the alley
behind my father’s office
at 918 f
she brought me through the front
it was only a museum 
then
before its reconstruction
we passed among glass cases
a derringer
a knife
a rocking chair
a diary propped open
her favorite book she told me
doting over the explosion
of penmanship from olden days
was the man who killed lincoln
someone must have borrowed it
i remember her lamenting
here where it began
where she never brought me
the door behind the stage
leading to the alley
that passed my father’s office
 
 

2.  11th Street Bridge, 11th & O Sts., S.E., Washington, D.C.,

 

Silas T. Cobb, Sergeant, United States Army


 
It’s not as if it was unusual.
I said sir this bridge is closed
nine p.m. till sunrise.
 
But there are always those who
had a few too many
lingered too long with a lady
or for one reason or another
if they don’t get home
the missus will be mighty sore.
 
I’ve a wife and kids myself.
I’ve been a traveler in the dark.
I question them.
Look them over.
Let them go.
 

*  *  *


 
i am standing in an empty lot
in anacostia
good hope road before me
a highway bridge across the river
at my back
looking for a trace
among the weeds
of the street now erased
where he’d arrived

it is not safe here
public housing / stores boarded 
parking lots where buildings burned
after the assassination
of martin luther king
 
but there
that chinese take out
inhabiting a wood frame house
ghostlikely here when he passed through
uniontown
here the homes of working whites
at the navy yard 

uniontown is not uniontown now
nor is the eastern branch
for which they named the road along the ridge
it is anacostia
home of frederick douglass
and the legions of blacks who followed
long after the assassin
galloped past
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

Washington Post, October 24, 1951


 
An alert crew of a navy tug
rescued a woman who jumped off
the 11th Street Bridge.
Mrs. Esther B. Hadju, 
Naval Gun Factory secretary
halted her car 
climbed over the rail
and plunged 
into the Anacostia River.
Seaman Richard D. Struck of Kewanee, Ill.
jumped into the water
held her while his mates
pulled her into boat.
 

*  *  *


 
in my car now / buttons down
searching for remnants of uniontown
trees that mothered over
muffled unlit roads
sacrificed their lives
for wider thoroughfares
on which I drive
 
he must have welcomed
muffled roads unlit
darkness must have become
his new best friend
none of this
on which i linger gave him pause
his horse’s hooves
would have barely brushed the ground
known even then as
good hope road
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

From The Elder and Younger Booth by Asia Booth Clarke


 
My brother Edwin inherited
father's genius for the stage.
He is often said to be the greatest
Hamlet, Richard, and Iago
that ever tread the nation’s boards.
 
 
 

3.  Branch Avenue, Hillcrest Heights, Maryland


 
i am sitting in the parking lot
of carriage hill apartments
middle class blacks
passing to or from their cars
pay little mind to the white guy
gazing at branch avenue
where the road from the bridge
meets the ridge along the eastern branch
of the potomac beyond which 
good hope awaited
 

*  *  *
 

 

Redaction
Washington Post, August 27, 1966


 
Army Captain Jack T. Lanier
his wife and two small children
were looking forward to living
in Carriage Hill Apartments
in Hillcrest Heights.
Lanier, being transferred from San Antonio,
filled out his application
sent in his deposit 
and found himself 
homeless.
Capt. Lanier thinks it was the box 
he checked for “race.”  

 
*  *  *


 
here or somewhere near
was the appointed place
at soper’s hill
a highway exit now
for branch avenue
and saint barnabas road
here or somewhere near
he would have waited
must have wondered
 
i wait too
by a warehouse complex
smithsonian institution
a small sign / of the times
restoration and storage facility
i too wonder
restoration and storage
why i am here
 

*  *  *


 

David Herold, Co-conspirator


 
When I found him nearby Soper’s Hill
I told him I had failed to do my job.
I feared he’d shoot me
but instead
he was so glad when I arrived
and in such pain, an injured leg
all he said
was once we cross the river, Davey
once we cross the river
glory hallelujah.
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

From A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke


 
Edwin cast his first and only vote
for Abraham Lincoln.
That same month
the brothers Booth
appeared onstage together
for the first and only time
in Julius Caesar.
 

*  *  *


 

John Lloyd, Manager, Surratt’s Tavern


 
I figured they were up to something.
But not that they’d already done it
and not what.
I swear to God.  
I will not lie to you.
I sympathized.
When Mrs. S sent hardware
with instructions
I obliged.
Hardware was what we called it.
 
 
 

4.  Beantown, Maryland


 

Samuel Mudd, physician and farmer


 
Awaken by knocking
I leaned out my window
heard a young man’s voice.
His friend was hurt.
His leg, entangled in a stirrup
falling from his horse
is what he said.

 
*  *  *


 
i remember this
this place
where doctor mudd lived
is now waldorf
i was here once
when we were a family
in the days of black-and-white
on a sunday drive
out branch avenue
now route five
for hardshells
at a place where you could sit
along pope’s creek
suddenly
tobacco barns and corn fields
gave way to gaudy restaurants
with slot machines
motels with lights galore
luxurious lobbies
and slot machines
in waldorf
mom explained
slot machines were legal
waldorf
had changed its name
from beantown
waldorf was an alias
beantown
had managed to remain
less than reputable
and rebels

*  *  *


 

From Testimony of Mary Simms (colored)


 
I know the prisoner yonder
Dr. Mudd.  I was his slave.
A man named John Surratt
visited very often.
They always went off by themselves.
And when someone was coming
Mr. Surratt would run.
 

*  *  *


 
even here
where the house still stands
i can’t find it
even though this back road
corn fields
fence rails
seem unchanged
even now at night
it is not what it was
lurking in the distance
a solitary street light
casts the past into darkness
haven aid and comfort
can only be imagined
 
 
 

5.  Port Tobacco, Maryland


 
Samuel Cox, tobacco planter

 
I never saw him.
Or the one they say
was here with him.
I do know Dr. Mudd.
They say he said
he gave my name to them.  
They say a black man says
they paid him seven dollars
to lead them here that night.
They were not here.
Ask my wife, my sons, my slaves.
 
Former slaves.
 

*  *  *

 

David Herold


 
Mr. Cox was none too pleased to see us
now that word was out
about the president
who
we learned
was dead.
Mr. Cox said troops were fanning out
through the county.
That they knew who’d done it
knew who’d crossed the bridge.
Mr. Cox led us to a forest
thick with pines
said wait here
someone will come.
 
We wait.
Horses hungry.
Afraid their braying will betray us.
He lays on the ground
scribbling.
All day today. And yesterday.
Someone will come.
A friend, we pray.
 

*  *  *


 

Thomas Jones, farmer


 
I have no affection for assassins.
Nor for Lincoln.
I’d been imprisoned on suspicion
no charge, no trial.
My enslavement cost me everything I owned.
I had nothing left to give these men.
Except my word.  And know-how.
One hundred thousand dollars
I was offered by a Union officer
suspicion in his eyes.
My money gone.
My farm I no longer owned.
Enslavement or death if I lied
and besides
the war is over.
They are assassins.
Why I ask you
did I not reply?
 

*  *  *


 

David Herold


 
A man who said
we need not know his name
came with food and advice.
Which was do nothing.
Which we have done now for three days.
We have run out of things to say.
He lays upon the ground
in pain and thinks
of what I do not know.
Last night I led our horses off
pressed my hat and coat against them.
Did my best to silence the sound.
When I returned
he did not even turn around.
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

Raleigh (NC) Daily Standard, April 18, 1865


 
We announce the assassination
of President Lincoln.
Humanity is shocked.  
North Carolina had no agency in this deed.  
His assassins will be pursued
and no country 
however remote
will shield them.  
They will be execrated
as the basest and most cowardly
of human kind.  
 

*  *  *


 
i am among the pines
heatherstone drive
andover lane
work their three and four bedroom homes
into where
five days he lay.

i rest on a bed of pines
barely able to see the sky
here he was
thinking back routes
unmarked roads
that could get me lost
or caught.
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction
New York Times, Letter from Edwin Booth, April 19, 1865


 
The news of the morning has made me wretched
not only because of the suspicions of a brother’s crime
but because a most justly honored ruler has fallen
by the hand of an assassin.  
The crime that has been laid at our door
has crushed me to the very earth.
My detestation and abhorrence of the act are inexpressible.
While mourning the death of the President
I am oppressed by a private woe.  
But whatever calamity may befall me or mine,
my country, one and indivisible
has been my warmest devotion.
 

*  *  *


 

David Herold


 
I saw the moment that he died
inside.
Consuming newspapers on his bed of pines
he suddenly went still.
Now he lies silently
does not scribble
or even look about.
I tried to rouse him.
Once we cross the river
Mr. Booth, I said,
once we cross the river
glory hallelujah.
He offered no reply.
 

*  *  *


 

Thomas Jones


 
I will say this.
If I’d assisted
I’d’ve told them
to stay put.
And advised them
shoot the horses
since I could not provide
if I’d assisted
feed enough
without suspicion.
 
If I’d advised them
I’d’ve have said
let the hounds and hooves
kick up dust as they rush by
then before it settles
but not until the moon’s a sliver
in a boat I will deliver
if I’d assisted
cross the river.
 

*  *  *


 

David Herold


 
The man whose name we knew not
came and said tonight’s the night.
Once again we saw the highway
but just to cross then back in to forest
to a stream where 
unseen beneath a chokeberry bush
a boat awaited us.
 

*  *  *


 
when she put a bullet
through the marriage
and sought refuge
in travel / health food / knitting
self-help books
and guarded gates
of leisure world
she fled to that from which she ran
 
 
 

6.  King George County, Virginia


 
sitting in my car on a suburban street
of new mcmansions
observing it among the suv’s, satellite tv’s,
only in memory its days as secret station
cleydael plantation
sits diminished by its offspring
cradling a chevy yukon in its lap.
 

*  *  *


 
 
 

Dr. Richard Stuart, Claeydael Plantation


 
I swear if he’d showed up again
I’d shoot him.
Or horsewhip him.
Two dollars fifty cents
he has the audacity to send
            Dear Sir,
I believe the man is mad.
            I hate to blame you
            for your want of hospitality.
Want of hospitality!
Does he not know who he is?
And the risk with which he infects everyone
with whom he comes in contact?
            I was sick with broken leg
            and need of medical advice.
Which I provided, to wit:
there was nothing I could do.
            I would not have turned away
            a dog at my door
            in such condition.
I did not turn him from my door.
I gave them food
and suggested safer haven
in the cabin of a colored man I knew.
            You were kind enough
            to give me something to eat
            for which I not only thank you but
            on account of the manner it was bestowed
            feel bound to pay.
And enclosed money quoting Shakespeare.
            The sauce in meat is ceremony;
            meeting were bare without it.
Shakespeare.
As if life is no different than a play.
 

*  *  *


 
in her leisure world apartment
tirades 
that, in time, metastasized
rage at my sister’s former husband
rage at the boss whose job i quit
rage at my father’s lawyer
rage at the president of the united states
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

From A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke


 
He kissed me many times goodbye
and I sat there where he left me
looking at the envelope in my lap
with the one word “Asia” on it.  
The envelope contained bonds for mother
an oil well for Junius
Boston land to mother to give to her son Joseph
and I retained the envelope marked “Asia.”
 
 
 

7.  Port Conway, Virginia


 

From Testimony of Willie Jett, 9th Virginia Cavalry


 
Headed home from the war
I saw a wagon at the wharf
of the Rappahannock ferry
from which a young man
came to us and said his brother
on crutches at the wagon
had been wounded
could I lead them to the lines?
I informed him there were no more lines.
Hearing this he touched me
dropped his voice.
We are the assassinators.
 

*  *  *


 
did he know the rappahannock
was for him
the river styx?
i have crossed too
my pants are wet
i need to seek safe haven
at any moment
i could be betrayed
by my wet pants
 

*  *  *


 

From Testimony of Capt. Everton Conger, U.S. Army Intelligence


 
At the Rappahannock ferry
a fisherman said Willie Jett
who grew up nearby
was talking to the brother
of a man with busted leg.
 

*  *  *


 
i am where the ferry was
when my mother’s mother fled
her husband who
my mother never said
where the ferry was is now a couch
dumped, then put to use 
for refuse views at river’s edge
 
deep beneath this stony ground
a stream of traffic flows
through baltimore harbor tunnel
while hammonds ferry road
where my mother’s mother drove
goes nowhere
 
 
 

8.  Caroline County, Virginia


 

From Testimony of Everton Conger


 
We woke Willie Jett in bed.
They are at Mr. Garrett’s
he said I’ll show you where.
We rode rapidly
arriving there nigh sunrise.
 

*  *  *


 
i am outside the house
on quinby street
she is holed up in her bedroom
i am five
knocking at her door
crumpling sounds
turned out to be her voice
do not come in
  

*  *  *


 

From Testimony of Everton Conger


 
Who are you? What do you want?
Lieutenant Baker answered: 
We want you.
I meanwhile told Garrett’s boys 
to gather pine.
 

*  *  *


 

David Herold


 
You damned coward
will you leave me now?
when I told him that I wanted 
to go home.
They will hang you. 
I said why – what have I done?
Be a guide and even that
I ran from
when I heard screams inside 
the Seward home.
He said go.
I went showing open hands.
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

From A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke


 
Edwin wrote to me.  
Think no more of him
as your brother.  
He is dead to us now
as he soon will be indeed.  
Imagine the boy you loved
to be in another world.
 

*  *  *


 

From Testimony of Sgt. Boston Corbett, 16th N.Y. Cavalry


 
When the flames rose we could see him.
He faced the fire, then the door 
toward which I saw him 
raise his carbine. 
Perceiving it was time 
I shot.
 

*  *  *


 

Redaction

 

Washington Post, August 25, 1886
 
James T. Bradford, a young mulatto


and Mary Tinny, a young white girl
boarded the Rappahannock steamer yesterday 
en route to Washington
to obtain a marriage certificate.
Captain Barker descended from the wheel house
pleaded with Miss Tinny to abandon the idea.
When docked at 6th Street he shouted to police
the young lady was a fugitive from her parents.
Bradford said they died when she was a child. 
Raised by an uncle, William Garrett, on whose farm 
Bradford did odd jobs. 
Both remain in custody       
awaiting word from Mr. Garrett.
 

*  *  *


 

From Testimony of Everton  Conger



We carried him to Garrett’s porch 
eyes still moving. 
Collecting contents of his pockets 
ear near his mouth he whispered 
Useless.  Useless.    
Ten minutes later he was dead.
 

*  *  *



i am beside her grave
tresa weitz
it says
it was not her name
weitz her mother’s family
tresa given her at birth
which she despised
she was terry friedman
later stein
in time
  all that will remain
is tresa weitz

she has escaped

 

[Check out Mark Stein’s back porch advice here]