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  • For Abraham Lincoln
  • Jonathan Farmer (bio)

Illustration by Nate Beaty

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1. On Your Deathbed

The flame still arcedinside your brain,a severing announcementof you to you—whatever part remained.It was the first news you missed,and as the state assembled in a roomthat wasn’t yoursyou groaned. Your mind withdrew.

You lived all night,all flesh, inflamed,your voice a vent.Too long to fitthe borrowed bed your limbshung off at odd angles.Nothing fit. Each thoughtswelled up like a tongue.Far off organs achedlike rumors. Nearby,breathing tangled.You were lungsor less, each exhalestunned by appetite,each intake stale.The heat of dyingheld you, strained

in the smallness of yourself—you who had beenavailable as land.No more. [End Page 163]

Your brain teemedfor clarity, its half-remembered map of your bodyfloating through you like a fever-dream.

Made up of American soil,your stripped-down body seemedtoo much. The lost blood couldn’t reach.All along the muscled lengthof flesh revising thoughts of you,your extinguished brilliance flared,your massive, fallibletenderheartedness was breached.

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2. After Death: On the Train and After the Burials

As death perfected youyour body started to collapse.Your mouthstaved in. Your jaw unlockedand showed your teeth.Dust settled in your whiskersand on your clothes.Your rattled bonessubsided.Your organs prolapsed.Bloodlessbeyond the griefof others and the bloodalready soaked into the landyou sent the dead to save,beyond the bruises the embalmerpreserved beneath your eyes, [End Page 164]

beyond the bodies soldand slaughtered, the bodiesplanted in blood, in rape,you led a nation,in installments,to your grave.

In between stops thousandsstood by tracks to seethe train car that contained youpassing by. Decadeslater when they dug you up,your pillow had rotted away.Your hair and whiskershad fallen offand “the face,”the Tribune wrote,“is very black.”Unsupported, aghast,your head tipped backward,tilting toward a skythat wasn’t any longerwhere it looked.Your woundshealed white Americatoo fast.(You might have too.)

The last time theyreburied you they placedyour coffin in a cage and sankthe steel cage in cement. Whatwas left of you was earthwithheld from earth.Douglass had seen youclearest: youseemed tardy, cold, dull,and indifferent; you werezealous, radical,determined, swift.A man for your times—said Douglass—as only someoneof your timecould be.

Not until afteryou first slid intothe vault beside your son the newsof slavery’s eradication reachedthe slaves in Galveston. Not untila time that doesn’t yet existwas the work that you resistedtaking on complete,though time was done with you.Your shattered body, stitchedtogether from disjointed partsin Western states,was more immediate than most.Entombed in landyou once had planned to barto all the slaves you finally freed,its unlikely solemnseamless beauty grew. [End Page 165]

Jonathan Farmer

JONATHAN FARMER is the author of That Peculiar Affirmative: On the Social Life of Poems and the editor in chief and poetry editor of At Length. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches middle and high school English.



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