Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue.
My Dearest Mother, forgive me,
for today I stood before God
and swore loyalty to mine enemy.
My sons and husband are dead,
and I am asked to bury my hatred.
I have done so and I have begged
that I might return home to you.
Forgive me, Mother,
my heart has turned cold and Blue.
What was not burned has been picked at
by packs of wild dogs. Full of mange,
full of rage and madness, they took over
looting after Ewing’s dogs left.
And now these dreaded dogs,
they plunder our fields for bones.
The murderous rage of those bent on abolishing
all we had has taken all from me!
I returned to what has been called a vast cemetery.
It seems to me a generous assessment,
for even our graves were turned out.
Snow and ash cover what few stones remain,
a Grey reminder. And in that respect,
a vast cemetery indeed.
Mother, I beg for your forgiveness,
for I buried your Bible next to your bones,
thinking you might keep it safe.
And the silver comb Father brought back
from the old country to give to his bride.
I knew not what else to do;
we were given only a fortnight to flee.
We have been punished for our honor,
most severely and without mercy.
Mother, forgive me if you can find it in your heart,
for I have chosen to marry a Union man.
He carries a Bible close to his breast
and has offered absolution for my sins.
His very dog he pledged to me for protection.
A silver comb, his bridal gift to me.
* * * * *
An historical footnote about The American Civil War’s General Order No. 11:
This poem is about a fictional woman who suffered during a very real and very devastating consequence of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Ewing, commander of the District of the Border issued the infamous General Order No. 11 on August 25th, 1863. It was in direct response to the raid on Lawrence on August 21st, 1863. In the order, Ewing banished the citizens from in the border counties—Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties and part of Vernon County in Missouri . It was assumed the citizens, most likely so, in these counties gave support to the guerrillas. Those who swore allegiance to the Union were exempt from the order. Yet, loyal or disloyal, the citizenry suffered under a ruthless execution of revenge. Buildings and homes were burned, livestock and possessions were taken, people were murdered even while trying to evacuate and follow the order. Many buried what possessions they couldn’t take with them and later returned to find them dug up and burned. The land was completely desecrated. The area became a wasteland. It is estimated that 25,000 people were displaced. In January of 1864, those who swore loyalty to the Union were allowed to return. Two years later, a minister named George Miller returned to the area and noted, “For miles and miles we saw nothing but lone chimneys. It seemed like a vast cemetery — not a living thing to break the silence … Man no longer existed here.”
Eve Brackenbury, Missouri bookseller, poet, and history interpreter. Author of A Companion of Lesser Brilliance(with Paul McGlamery), The Lennox Garden: Pressed Between Pages (with Phillip King), and Shadowed Grounds: Poems. Also, published in two weighty anthologies, and a smattering of journals, etc. Although much of her work is found in print, she prefers spending time with her audience. She’s a frequent guest and host for poetry readings and public speaking engagements.
“Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue” was originally written for the Blue Springs Historical Society, and performed for a 2013 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of General Order No. 11. It is published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems, a self-published chapbook.