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The Final Gift

A New Traditional

Issue 123, Winter 2023

Littoral Drift #48 (Tower Beach, Hilton Head, SC 06.13.13, Three Waves, Dipped and Buried), a dynamic cyanotype by Meghann Riepenhoff © The artist. Courtesy the. artist and Yossi Milo, NewYork. Riepenhoff’s monograph, Ice, was published in 2022 by Radius Books and Yossi Milo Gallery

A letter came to Marie’s door
That had sailed from across the sea
Sent by her true love saying
Love, come rendezvous with me
          come rendezvous with me

Now she jumped on her golden horse
And rode it across the land
All through the rugged countryside
The reins gripped in her hands
          the reins gripped in her hands

And as she rode on through the streets
Her beauty graced the scene
All passersby took her to be
The image of a queen
          the image of a queen

She reached the dock and said
I will cross the raging sea
The captain laughed and told her
Miss that depends upon your fee
          that depends upon your fee

If you can promise me a crew
That can be both true and bold
Then you will be rewarded
And she tossed him a bag of gold
          she tossed him a bag of gold

They sailed across the waves
Where the sun meets the sky
She stood boldfaced and watched the moon
As another day gone by
          as another day gone by

And when they reached the land
She rode up to her true love’s door
And there she met with a terrible sight
That shocked her to the core
         that shocked her to the core

He lay sick in his silken sheets
With riches around his bed
He said to Marie to her surprise
In the morning I’ll be dead
         love, in the morning I’ll be dead

He’d grown so thin his head flopped down
And his tears began to flow
My rambling ways never told you
How much I loved you so
          how much I loved you so

She spoke composed with tiny tears
Racing across her eyes
Here’s the ring you gave me
When we last walked side by side
          when we last walked side by side

My necklace has nine fine pearls
For each year you’ve been gone
When you took away your silver voice
And your melancholy song
          your melancholy song

She then took off her emerald brooch and said
Take this gift from me
It’s like the green grass meadow
On the day I set you free
          the day I set you free

She threw her arms around his neck
She made her final plea
And off he slipped into the night
As if he’d gone to sleep
          as if he’d gone to sleep

And she returned back to her ship
Clutching her weeping heart
She turned her eyes up to the rain
As the clouds began to part
          as the clouds began to part

Saying If I stare toward heaven
And see the lightning flashing high
Then I will know that it’s my true love
Calling me to his side
          yes, a-calling me to his side

And they rode and rode on the raging sea
And an unforgiving wind
Capsized the ship with a mighty wave
And she was never seen again
          Marie was never seen again

Dom Flemons

Dom Flemons is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and slam poet. He is also a tradition bearer of American roots music. Among his honors are those from the Grammy Awards, the Living Blues Awards, and the International Folk Music Awards, as well as a 2020 United States Artists Fellowship in Traditional Arts. Flemons is the founding host of American Songster Radio Show on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. His most recent album is Traveling Wildfire (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2023). “The Final Gift” is a new traditional ballad poem written and performed by Flemons, commissioned for this issue.