Weekly Poem: Steve Scafidi Jr. reads ‘Portraits of Abraham Lincoln with Clouds for a Ceiling’

BY artsdesk  April 7, 2014 at 11:02 AM EST


Steve Scafidi Jr. reads his poem “Portraits of Abraham Lincoln with Clouds for a Ceiling” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Portraits of Abraham Lincoln with Clouds for a Ceiling

He could feel his pinky toe
push through the hole
in his sock, and a rash form
on his neck.

He saw a hawk falling from
a locust nearby, heard
a steam train cry far off.
He smelled the citrus

perfumes of the dignitaries
mixing with sweat.
Mostly through he listened
and bowed.

Not far below him under-
ground the leg bone of a boy
from Ohio, buckles, teeth
and rounds.

At the new cemetery
in Pennsylvania he waited
to speak, the low clouds
like the ceiling

of a church about to be
torn down or replaced
with light, the crowd
angry and somber,

the crowd pressing in,
the appointed speaker
talking too much
of Rome on and on

beside the bones of
the young laid down
before him. He sensed a hair
on his tongued, fiddled

with his ear a moment
and then rose to speak
while the sky cleared
and still continues

to clear — the blues
of the sky a consecration,
a testimony for this
new church founded

in Gettysburg, in hope
and two hundred and seventy-
two words shouted
over muddy earth

Steve Scafidi Jr.’s poem “Portraits of Abraham Lincoln with Clouds for a Ceiling” is published in “Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration: Poems and Photographs, Past and Present.” In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned 12 modern poets to reflect on our contemporary understanding of the war.

An earlier version of this article said the “National Poetry Gallery” instead of the “National Portrait Gallery.”