Virginia Autumn

Through golden green trees
we drive the two lane highway
to the old farms
past villages
always historical in Virginia
in and out of tree dappled sunshine
reminding me of that poem by that Jesuit
but the afternoon is too lazy for me to remember
names or titles.

Those stone posts have stood at the entrance road
since the early 1800s
but the row of mailboxes just beyond
are just a few years old.

On one side is the turn-off to the recessed farm
closest to the road but recessed from the river
the colonial water highway
On the other side, the debris left
by recent loggers
the long deep wound
not yet softened by new growth.

Slower now we wind
through sunshine and trees
as men and women have for centuries
We turn at the next set of stone posts
drive through a gap in the old stone wall
the wall my husband repaired
stone by flat stone
rebuilding what other hands laid
centuries before.

We pass my favorite oak
not really special except to me
it stands at the end of the driveway
to the house that once was ours
the manager’s house.

Just beyond is the family’s house
that began as an 18th century hunting lodge
on land gifted by the king
the same family still owns the land
the house
the business
my husband helped build.

The same family
welcomes us back always
so we drive confident past the barn
that is on the national historic registry
across the train tracks
built after the colonial canal was drained
built to accommodate the newer faster rail transport
back in the 19th century

Through the farmland to the river
to the delight of our two year old grandson
abandoning the car
we slip down the muddy grassy sides
to the rocky shore
and spend the Indian summer afternoon
watching a 2 year old throw ever bigger rocks
into the river.

I take off his shoes and socks
and mine
so we can dangle our feet in the cold water
my long legs from the big rock
his short ones from the little rock

Driving home
we pass again the family’s home
300 and more years after the land grant
still owned by the same family
We pass my favorite old oak
at the turn for the manager’s house
occupied by another family now
but we are always welcome here
We pass the stone wall
rebuilt by my husband
built first by enslaved black men
We drive through the stone posts
erected by those enslaved men
We look through the trees to where
the slave chapel once stood
and beyond that we know are the few small
leaning half-buried gravestones
in what remains of the slave cemetery

How many of the black people
in these small historic villages
share blood with those
who built those walls
laid those posts
cleared that land
planted now harvested trees
lie unnamed in forgotten graves

We drive through sun and shade
tree filtered

White owners still
keep house and land
Generous people
Kind people
Proud people
Seen and heard

Black slaves disappear
Unless you squint
past the blinding white
into the dark past
Generous people
Strong people
Proud people
Unseen, unheard

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