Dr. Haller Nutt’s Half-Built, Octagonal Mansion
Longwood Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi
For one hundred years, his family lived on in its cellar,
the upstairs walls sketched in raw lumber on bare brick.
Construction steps still spiral a rough, dizzy geometry
five stories up inside the dome. But by 1861, he’d frilled
each porch column in wooden lace. The huge roof and
Great War were on. Dr. Nutt owned 800 slaves. He died
before the end of hostilities. Left his daughters to play
with salesmen’s models of never-delivered chairs. Left us
this unimaginable eight-sided loss: pneumonia, poverty,
a paralyzing void passed generation to generation. Left
the smell of clay, of dust swimming in sunlight, a bench
lined in rusty tools, a piano’s empty shipping case tipped
on its side, grey as an cast-off bandage. You can buy a ticket
or rent the place for your holiday party. Everyone knew this
could never be finished. Everyone knows it still isn’t done.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes the decay of a place stands in for the decay of a family (or of a country). This poem about Longwood Plantation illustrates that beautifully.