Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
The title of this Cairn, or marker, is “Libation.” In African, and in the tradition of many cultures, libation (“LIE-bay-shn”) is the term for water or other clear liquid that is poured on the ground in memory of the deceased. In this image, the water of Prairie Creek, on the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is pouring over the Libation Cairn in memory of the enslaved people who worked on the Dent Plantation.
In 1844, future president Ulysses S. Grant (1868–1876) crossed a flooded Gravois Creek, just downstream from Prairie Creek, to propose to Julia Dent here at White Haven, her family’s home. While Grant was opposed to slavery (he was to become general of the Union armies from March 1864 to the Confederacy’s surrender in April 1865), Julia’s father owned 30 slaves who maintained the house and operated the farm.
Clay marbles belonging to the enslaved people were found when archeologists excavated the home’s basement kitchen floor during the renovation. Visitors to the historic site on July 13, 2013, created the marbles visible in the Cairn’s amber-glass in memory of the captive children and adults who worked on the property.
A libation, remembering the late
those souls meeting at a Cairn
as the moon shines on the marbles
glistening like blinking eyes
buried beneath where the earth
holds those most dear, like gold
in the hands of the poor or led
in the hands of a writer,
a dancer leaping to the sound of memory,
the paint guiding the thought and stroke or
the clay bringing to life the history -
in a field waiting to be discovered
entombed in a museum of the natural kind.