Great-great-grandparents Serena and Ira Sayles were married in April of 1845, in Alfred, New York, but spent much of their lives from 1862 until 1894 separated by the demands of a post-war nation. Throughout their marriage Ira was an amateur geologist, and his last decade was spent traveling up and down the east coast for the United States Geological Survey, based out of Washington, D.C., while Serena remained on the Virginia farm with son Clifton. Ira returned to Serena–to die. The following passage prompted my poem:
Mr. J. E. Beales states that he was present with Ira Sayles on June 15th, 1894. Saw him die. J.E. Beales and Henry R. Dodson both state that they viewed the remains after death. They both assisted to shroud or prepare his remains for burial, and they both were present at his burial. They assisted to place his remains into the coffin and both assisted to bury same, on the afternoon of same day of his death which was June 15th 1894.
General Affidavit, Civil War Widow’s Pension application of Serena Sayles 26 November 1894
Serena’s LamentThere. I said it. At least I’ll know where you are after this good bye.
Seems all I did was watch you leave; What chased you? What caught you? Did you feel my gaze lingering on your back, Hope for your return dangling like a loose thread from your coat?
Off you went. Traipsing over rocks, Winding up mountains, Climbing down caves. Chips and chunks of earth filling your sack, Specimens retrieved, categorized, classified, analyzed, theorized Among names that never Included mine. The shroud gathers round your empty frame, Takes you, a specimen, To the red red iron-fed soil Of this land. Now you will be categorized, classified and analyzed By its souls.
And my eyes will linger on your back no more.