Oh My Darling May I Write
by Timothy Perior
My wife and I began in Maryland and ended up
in a small town in Georgia. The house is one of
those large, almost mansion things on a couple
of acres, built pre-civil war. It is great for writing.
We love it. This morning I was rummaging about
in the attic. In an obscure corner I came across an
old disintegrating cloth wrapped package. Between
the darkness and the dust I almost missed it.
I unwrapped the remains of a shawl to find a
brittle leather portfolio. Inside I found a quarter inch
of family financial records; among them a hand
written sheet of aged, fine stationery.
This is what it said.
Oh my darling may I write
Of the worry and the care tonight;
For in the wind a rumor swirls
And twists the soul of all the girls.
For no man is here to save;
No strength of army brave.
What color will we look and see?
Not gray with red striped lovely.
Will the coats of color blue
Come to wreak the devil’s due;
To march into our happy home
And cast us to forever roam?
Oh, gallant love, this verse is better
Than if I penned a fretful letter.
My breaking heart could stop this time
If I don’t fight my mind for rhyme.
I think of you that storm inside
Of those that steal our nation’s pride;
That tell us what we should not do
And force us stand a Northern cue.
We’ve lost the darkies, all but one,
Sweet Lollie keeps the coffee on.
She’s like sweet Jesus to stay with me
Proclaiming she has true liberty.
So there’s no one but her and Mum
Who’s sick now, her legs go numb.
But strong in spirit like the tide
Of ocean storm she says she’ll ride.
And drive the Yankees from her door
If what they say; if that’s in store.
Oh listen, darling, I hear a sound
The woeful baying of our hound.
And now they come their rifles clang
Against their kits with Yankee slang.
Oh fight dear love with all you’re worth
Preserve our ways, our Southern birth.
Of the black man what can we say
What will he do who serves today
Will his color cause him ancient rage
To tear our Republic cover and page.
If ever freedom set his fearful face
To return to African roots and race;
Where tribes shed blood as if it’s rain
And fill the soil with all their slain.
I have much more I cry to say;
I cry, dear love, I cry today.
Oh listen, listen to our hound
The blue coats shouting all around.
(That’s where the letter poem ended, but I
couldn’t let it end there. And so I wrote.)
Oh heart, oh heart I read your life
And you, soldier, sir I’ve met your wife
I live now in your historic home
And found in attic’s corner poem.
Oh, but I met you before this day
In a churchyard I stopped to pray.
Here lies Caroline Richeleau
The years added up to ninety-two.
Beside her, sir, I saw your name
Your years were not at all the same.
On battlefield your end had come
There the silenced beating drum.
To your fears of black man’s rage
If you could have but turned the page;
To see the elegance of human heart
That turned to God to make a start
There are they that shake the spear
Even to this day and year.
It’s not with them that greatness lay
But in us all where service stay.
But who am I, Caroline, telling you
For in the cemetery you left a clue.
Upon your marble stone there said
These words you penned upon your bed:
“There was a friend I didn’t see
’til time of siege for her and me
Many tried to stand the test
In the end Lollie was the best.”
Timothy Perior is a writer and filmmaker living in California, but says he’s had several Southern experiences that impacted his life over the years. At age 17, he hitchhiked through Texas and came face to face with segregation when a black truck driver picked him up and took him to a lunch counter. He’s also spent time in Natchez, Mississippi, working on a film and leading a prayer meeting on a plantation.