Jim Limber the Adopted Mulatto Son of Jefferson Davis Considers His Place in History


Mostly I hear him     daddy Jeff before

I see him he     talks to himself     real loud when

He walks I hear him mostly     anywhere

In the house     even     when I’m in the yard and


Momma Varina says a gentleman

Announces his     presence with his     demeanor

I don’t know what that means I think it means

She wants him just to hush sometimes     I seen her


Crying and slap him once and the next day

The Yankees marched on Petersburg and that

Was yesterday     today     he pulls me a-


side and he says he don’t know where they’ll take me

It scared me good     but he     just floats off     talking

Just like a ghost     just like I ain’t his ghost



Jefferson Davis the Adoptive Father of the Mulatto Jim Limber Dreams of an Unknowing Love


She is a slim young     Negress but I know

she is my Varina she is a girl

I saw only once     a few weeks ago

in town on an errand with her master


whom she resembled and his wife who did

not look at her     but commanded the air

immediately before her own     face

and the Negress three steps behind obeyed


she was nobody she is     Varina

I recognize her as she was and is

two women in a single body I

stand hidden     in a shadow in the dream


watching but I stood in the sun when I

saw her but things     are not as they were and

I stand hidden in a shadow     and as

she passes three steps behind her master


who had passed half a step behind his wife

I reach for her     and in the way of dreams

touching her     who was the moment before

a stranger I know her     and have known her


from the moment of her birth     and in the

way of dreams also she is new to me

as the moon is she is     both known and strange

I pull her     into the darkness that hides


me from her master and his wife and hid

me from her before     and there I desire

her as a white man desires a Negress

as two women in a single body


I draw her close to me     and as I reach

for her face her master’s     wife calls her name

Varina she calls     where are you and she

calls with my Varina’s voice she calls her


name     and mixes it with mine     Jefferson

where are you I have fallen     asleep in

my study     my Varina calls for me

as the moon calls     for the light of the sun


from across an unknowable blackness



Shane McCrae is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College, and a faculty member at Spalding University's low-residency MFA in Writing Program. His most recent books are In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) and The Animal Too Big to Kill (Persea Books, 2015), and his poems have appeared in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Pinwheel, DREGINALD, and elsewhere. He has received a Whiting Writer's Award, a fellowship from the NEA, and a Pushcart Prize.