Dabney’s Wife

Joanne Lowrey Click to

Joanne Lowrey’s work has appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, Slant, Briarcliff Review, Poetry East and Cottonwood.   Her book is Not Me from Fuller Press, and she lives in Michigan.  “Dabney’s Wife” was first published in Shenandoah 53/3.

It was all their idea, not Hooker’s
and before long officers noticed that this Negro
from across the Rappahannock was almost always
right about what the Secesh troops were doing
over in Fredericksburg, though Dabney
was only a cook, a servant, and married

to a woman whose name we’ll never know:
she begged Hooker to send her across the river
as a laundress to wash the sweat
and stains from the uniforms of slavers.

It was all their idea, maybe hers first,
though finally Dabney showed one of Hooker’s men
how he could see her clothesline
across the river and read it like semaphores:
the gray shirt Longstreet, the red one Stonewall
pinned up and taken down in accordance
with their comings and goings from camp.

Rebels dancing in the sunshine, flapping
in the wind, others to soon fall
in clothes bloodied, shot full of holes
because a black woman scrubbed
and rinsed and did not miss a thing.