from Nine Ways of Looking at Lincoln

Phil Tabakow

Billy Herndon in Indiana:
September 14, 1866

On the crown of a high knoll,
in a small clearing cut from the forest,
toppled trunks piled as crossbars,
fifteen feet from a towering oak,
in an unfenced cemetery, tombless,
anonymous amid the unknown dead,
in a sunken grave scooped to a hollow
from the head of which
I uprooted a dogwood sapling
and hastily traced my name in the dust,
the mother of our fallen president lies
in silent testimony to the incessant flux.

Note: This is the final poem in a sequence of nine poems spoken by Abraham Lincoln’s contemporaries, which explore the often contradictory views about Lincoln’s enigmatic character and family history.  The speaker is William Herndon, Lincoln’s longtime law partner from his years in Springfield, Illinois.  Herndon visited Lincoln’s mother gravesite in the process of writing his controversial biography of Lincoln.


Phil Tabakow

Phil Tabakow received a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Denver and has taught at universities in Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts, Bahrain, Oman, and Dubai. He is the author of a book of poems entitled The Mechanics of Submission (DC Books, Montreal 2004) and has published individual poems in many journals and magazines, including Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, Interim, and Poetry East. His poem “Walt Whitman at Pfaff’s” was chosen for the anthology Visiting Walt: Poems Inspired by the Life and work of Walt Whitman published by the University of Iowa Press.