The Marjorie E. Peale Memorial Prize
Edisto Island, SC
Word got out that a famous museum
was coming to dismantle and pack up the last
Edisto Island slave cabin. It stood but barely
on land where Europeans first settled.
Descendants of slaves on the island
began naming their ancestors who had lived
in the cabin before the Civil War
and as freedmen into the 20th century.
When she lived there as a young girl,
one woman told how Black Angus cows
stuck their heads in the door. Others talked
about two rooms, a loft, chimney fires.
They arrived the day it came down,
board after board numbered, hand-forged nails
collected, one descendant photographed looking
out a window frame before the wall was taken,
his expression hard to read.
As the day wore on, a woman sang herself
into the spirit of her great-grandmother.
While pieces were loaded onto trucks
people surprised themselves with tears.
Ground the cabin had covered gave up
evidence of lives there: coin, button,
pottery shard, animal bone. We hear
about the restoration and wait for the cabin’s
placement in public halls some will visit
and some will not. Marked by a palmetto
near the bluff above the North Edisto River
we know where it stood.