Tobacco, Furs, Rum, and Slaves
Out of sight, the rapids rage and play; that old vein
of commerce idles downtown
past the canal walk, memorial plaques, and granite stones
artfully set for seating. Tobacco warehouses,
converted to swank eateries, crowd close,
the rust-red brick stoic. I heard the river’s name
growing up but never picnicked on its banks,
or noticed it as we drove over the bridge,
on our way to the beach. My first clear memory?
A sixth-grade barge trip— bagged lunches,
burning sun, and a brown churning
behind us as we drifted through history, stopping
to tour a plantation or two. The James
was ephemeral, foreign and familiar,
powerful as an undercurrent, an argument
behind my parents’ door: my brother gardening pot
in the woods along the banks.
I saw it fully from Hollywood Cemetery,
a hollowed-out perch at the edge—
a spot to grieve, to think about how the river
never stops, how it carries everything.