In This World Tumbled Down


I see him standing in his field,
rough hands wrapped round the handle of his hoe,
watching the army march down the Williamsburg Road.
He hears the fifers’ reel;
the Continentals’ drums beat a cadence foreign
to the rhythms of his Quaker life.
His thoughts turn quickly to the farm—
corn stacked in the crib,
tobacco hanging in the barn to cure,
sons and cattle in the safety of the woods.

On First Day he sits in the meetinghouse’s silence
listening to the cannons’ siege across the fields in Yorktown.
And, when the guns quiet, a world turned upside down.
In Williamsburg, eloquent speech on liberty gained,
freedom and the rights of men,
but there in Skimino plain speech and prayers
for freedoms that will not soon come.
In the meetinghouse clapboard and plain
he holds all in the light of peace,
and embraces a path at odds with the new America.

In Skimino I stand among the regrowth and the briars,
the southern pines and the shadowed light.
The meetinghouse is gone; the graves of Friends forgotten,
nameless underneath the road to Williamsburg, Yorktown,
and the fleet at Hampton Roads.
In this world tumbled down men still speak
of waging war and liberty
in the name of peace that will not soon come.
But here in Skimino,
in the solace of the shadowed light,
so many years after him,
I embrace his path of peace.


3 thoughts on “In This World Tumbled Down

  1. Thanks. This is an old poem, written sometime in 2002, and is rooted in both my turn to Quakerism as well as feelings toward the war in Afghanistan. The specific event that preceded the poem was a trip to Williamsburg to talk to the Williamsburg Friends Meeting about the history of Quakerism in that area, specifically, the Skimino Meeting, which was located in York County, just northwest of Williamsburg. The meetinghouse grounds are now covered by part of the Lightfoot interchange on I-64. While I was there, I spent some time walking around in the general vicinity of the former site. My ancestors founded Skimino meeting; my fifth-great-grandfather, William Ratcliffe, donated the land for the meetinghouse in 1769. It is he to whom I’m referring in the poem.

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