Edgar Allan Poe Dines at Thomas Jefferson’s Home; The White Piano

Edgar Allan Poe Dines at Thomas Jefferson’s Home

Couldn’t he have been
among those students routinely chosen

to meet with the university founder
and discuss Enlightenment ideals?

Perhaps not. Too haunted in his bearing,
too otherworldly, too Romantic,

too poor, a Southerner but not an aristocrat
who brought his slave to school.

Still, much to praise—at 17, possessed
of a strange brilliance,

admitted early to the new university.
So picture Edgar closing the door

of Room 13, West Range—where eerie
words were whispered and roared

to wide-eyed young men before a hissing
hearth—now seated under a skylight

at the small table the Founding Father preferred.
Picture that room at Monticello—

chrome-yellow bright, of classical symmetry
that embraces order and reason, dinner prepared

by Sally Hemings’ brother James, trained
as a chef in Paris during his master’s stay.

What would the raven say, hovering above?
Beware the red red wine, the daggering,

deceptive crystal, this fire-flickered room,
overlit. Conversation flows.

Edgar holds his own, but there are black flashes
in his pondering and brooding in the lulls.

Possibly Jefferson noticed, aware
that Edgar’s father abandoned the family,

his mother dead soon after,
and that John Allan, a prosperous merchant,

disapproved of his ward, taken in
at age two but never officially adopted.

Later in the darkness that is Edgar’s true home,
he steps onto the raw planks of his Spartan room,

lights a wick, dips a quill, and begins
to write “Tamerlane.” Story interruptus:

by December, John Allan will refuse to pay tuition
despite the freshman’s honor grades,

and Edgar will leave Charlottesville
in debt and shame:

“. . . it was my crime to have no one on Earth
who cared for me, or loved me,”

he wrote of that time like a doomed character
in one of his own tales,

so close that year to a future
without his raven-in-waiting.
The White Piano

How it floated in the townhouse,

whose glass façade was not a window,

but a lens through which I peered.

How it glowed against the dark

of the other rooms, against the gloom

of that hour, slick as a luxury ship that appears

on the sea of winter, the bleak cold

of a city street. How solid and yet ethereal,

as if suspended on clear thread,

the dangled promise of another life.

I stood before it, waiting. But how still

its bone-white fingers remained,

how relentlessly empty that room.