A Nineteenth-Century Portrait

When Mister Robert Scarlett, master
of Cambridge and Druckett plantations, stood
for his portrait, the good man made a point
of having his personal slave-boy, Oliver,
beside him, waist high, holding his game bag,
with which he’d ride to hunt wild hog
and occasional runaways. At his other side
his favorite dog. How well the boy’s
dark visage serves design,
matching the dark of the trees to cast
in relief the pale, proprietorial white.

Those were the good days; they didn’t last.
After the slave revolts of 1831
great houses, factories, everything was gone;
only the family tomb remained.
And what of Oliver? History has left
no afterword; a boy in a picture,
a period-piece, on which poets may stretch out a fiction.

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