3 Poems by Fred Bassett
Maria Martin on John James Audubon
in honor of Maria Martin, 1796-1863
by Fred Bassett
If you know the gentleman well,
you know he beguiled a few days here
in Charleston with the Reverend BachmanC
this commodious house already chocked
to the cracks with children, wife, and me.
Oh, that Mr. Audubon had the run
of the place. And joyful fire
to set a woman’ss heart ablaze,
not that you would ever imagine such
from the visage I see in the mirror.
Most days, the two men were afield,
searching for some good feathers
to skin and re-stuff for the painter’s eye.
I lived my days in the background,
so I was happy to paint that for him.
Beyond Charleston, I doubt anyone
has ever heard my name. Even here, few
know my hands painted the franklinia
in his rendering of Bachman’s warbler.
You wouldn’t know this either, but I
painted the rare pair, first and just for him,
after he had gone back North
without ever laying eyes on them.
In truth, I am the background, waiting
for him to perch the prize
in my branches, male above
the female, just as I knew he would.
This poem was inspired by the author’s thoughts on John James Audubon’s stay with the Rev. Bachman of Charleston, South Carolina, where the naturalist met the Rev.’s sister-in-law, Maria Martin, in the 1830s. A watercolor painter, Martin did paint the background for several birds, including the Bachman warble, named for the Rev.
To The Negroes of Conrad Barsh’s Estate
by Fred Bassett
Phillip aged 60 $50, Toby aged 35 $4000 . . .
Dicy and child $5000, Susan aged 45 $900 . . .
Courthouse Records, Troupe Co, GA, 1864
Dead! Dead! All long, long dead
like the old German who bequeathed you
to his heirs, the choice to his son Thomas,
the great-grandfather of my gentle mother
who knew about the family’s godless commerce
but never told us until we found the appraisal
by Hainston, Johnson, and White.
What the hand? What the eye?
By what dread calculus? And did you know?
Did you know who was high and who was low?
Would that I had remained ignorant of this legacy.
It was easy enough, growing up poor.
But it’s never just someone else’s doing.
It took me eighteen years to see the horrors
behind common signs like “Whites Only.”
You, no doubt, know about the practice
of placating the dead, once so widespread.
In King David’s times, they would cry,
again and again with grief and terror,
“Ah, my brother” or “Ah, my sister.”
How primitive to worry with the dead,
lest they rise up against the living.
But here I am crying your names,
one by one, from Phillip to Josephine.
And for you, Dicy’s child, I cry, Beloved.
Ah, my sisters! Ah, my brothers!
Bassett wrote this poem based on an appraisal of his great great great-grandfather Conrad Barsh’s estate. “Given our economic status when I was born, I never imagined my ancestors were slave holders,” he says. “This discovery came as a shock to me. The poem is quite personal and represents my effort to deal with this legacy.” “To The Negroes of Conrad Barsh’s Estate” was included in his latest book of poetry, “The Old Stoic Faces the Mirror.”
by Fred Bassett
It covers her grave
in the Lanett Cemetery.
Her father built it
with red brick walls,
a green-shingled roof,
windows with white awnings,
a solid door with a lock.
Perhaps the mother
chose the toys
both old and new.
I kneel at the window.
There’s a framed photo
of the child against one wall,
a doll in a brass cradle,
another on a tricycle,
two more beside a tea set
on the gray granite slab,
engraved with name,
dates and four words
from her last birthday:
Me want it now.
A native of Roanoke, Alabama, now living in Greenwood, South Carolina, Fred Bassett’s poems have been published in more than 50 journals and anthologies. He also has four books of poetry and one novel, “South Wind Rising.” His latest book of poetry, “The Old Stoic Faces the Mirror,” was released in July. The poem above was first published in “Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry” and was inspired by a dollhouse that covers the grave of a little girl in Valley, Alabama. “There’s quite a story there about guilt and anguish,” says Bassett. “I’ve tried to capture its essence in a poem.”