“SONG FOR LAZARETTO” – f# minor, (Copyright 2001-2019 Cynthia Farr Kinkel)
1. It runs to the mouth of South Channel, with the tide, it meanders ’round, winding its way through the marsh’s wavy grasses and soggy ground. It curves like a rippled gray ribbon, the sash on a satin gown, and touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down. Many red sunsets have lingered high above this floating plain, to promise relief from the storms at sea -– from the waves, the wind, and the rain.
2. The Uchee walked on Tybee long before the Spanish came. The word for salt was ‘tybee,’ and the island was named the same. Though fearsome pirates ventured here whose deeds became renowned, where Blackbeard buried his treasure dear, has never yet been found. While pirate days were numbered, also, French and Spanish gain, the English anchored at Tybee, determined to remain.
3. The founders envisioned Savannah: ‘No tenured property -– a viceless, yeoman’s utopia; no rum, no slavery.’ Then trade in Chatham began to fail, and small farms but survived, while over in South Carolina, the rice plantations thrived. As loss and disenchantment overshadowed past convictions, they offered the land grant titles, and lifted the slave restrictions.
4. For years, when ships reached Tybee Light, they’d stop at South Channel Sound. They’d unload the sick and the dying, both the free, …and the bound. They’d leave them here, where this little creek, still far from Savannah town, touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down… at a place called ‘lazaretto,’ where a quarantine would hold all the ones with dreaded diseases, and the ones too sick to be sold.
5. While great blue herons nested out beyond the island’s view, mosquito swarms would buzz and bite ’til evening breezes blew. Windswept cedars, and pines, and palms, and crooked oak trees spread… alms of mercy at ‘lazaretto,’ like a summons to ‘raise the dead.’ Though comforters braved the perils, and full moons waxed and waned, there was no such ‘resurrection,’ for the dying who remained.
Refrain 1: Lazaretto! Here, beyond the stormy sea, was no promise for tomorrow, in your sunset reverie? Why must these things be so? What hope can ever be, as we lie here, Lazaretto, to rise again and be free?
6. Now, the South had known misfortune, but the price was high to pay, when the Union armies marched right in, and took it all away. Though Sherman spared Savannah the flames that others knew, the way of life was ended … and the means of living, too. While great plantations emptied, and fields were laid so low, the slaves were freed, but many stayed. They’d nowhere else to go.
7. But the worst they’d fear on Tybee now were fevers and hurricanes, and the days of the quarantines would end, leaving the last remains of the site where many perished, tide-washed and over-grown,… while rails were laid, and a road was made, and the seeds of progress, sown… Nothing survives to mark the graves of the souls lost in that place, … nothing perhaps, but a secret mark, that time cannot erase.
8. Today, the bridge that spans the creek affords a scenic view of the waters off Cockspur lighthouse, as they rush to the ocean blue. Here, the island ‘shrimpers’ dock, and nearby, dolphins play, while hungry seabirds circle low to scavenge what they may, … and out on the west horizon, where the miles of marshes grow, the sunsets still do linger as they did so long ago.
9. Many tales are told of those who’ve walked these timeless beaches, and the ways of former slaves live on where the GeeChee culture reaches. The creek still curves like a ribbon, as it winds along with the tide, though it cannot tell a single word how any have lived or died, but at times out here, there’s a sound on the wind, the voice of a memory, that fills the heart of these marshes, like the tide that’s up from the sea,
Refrain 2: “Lazaretto,… many things should never be, as the deeds and reasons sleeping fill the pages of history. Yet, there is no doubt as the years rush out to meet eternity, they who lie here in the depths below, … asleep in mystery,
10. … may also hear the trumpet blow beyond the stormy sea -– down, where your waters flow, the day you set them free — down, where your waters flow on the sundown side of Tybee, like a witness, Lazaretto, you wait so patiently. Like a witness, … wait and see.”
Copyright 2001 – 2020, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel