I hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me

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Was near there at the end, I recall, we was hungry,
hadn’t et for days, but’d marched light and dark,
never sleeping more’n minutes, scootin’ it for
the Carolinas so’s we could keep up the fight
in the wrinkles of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Good God it rained, but it rained! Every river
was swollen and most flooded. We was cold
and no one had boots left, socks even, just
blooded soles. At the last, them Yankees
came at us like dogs who’d worried their hunt
to a hole and it was close and hot there for a while.
I recall puttin’ my piece to the back o’ the head
of one blue coat and pullin’ the trigger. After all
them years I can tell you my charges never failed,
no matter how wet or cold it got. As he fell
I realized t’was my best friend, the one what had
convinced me to sign up with him. ‘Spite what
the officers had told us, he had took the coat
off’n a dead Yankee days ago rather than worryin’
t’freeze t’death. I left that blue coat on him
as I tucked him in and pulled the dirt blanket
o’er his head, so’s he could sleep warm that night.
Now, looking back, I wonder, when I go too, will I
be sleepin’ warm? I don’t doubt I ought, I don’t.

 

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This is the final of two poems dealing with the American Civil War that were inspired by reading Killing Lincoln. I recommend that any non-Americans who aren’t quite as familiar with this war, read the explanation accompanying that first post, Sailor’s Creek, as a quick background to understand the key roles of that conflict.

Even after reading that first post, here are a few further notes:

1) Marse (short for ‘Master’) Robert was a term of deep affection Lee’s troops used to refer to him.

2) Lee’s plan after quitting Petersburg and the fall of the Confederate capital of Richmond was to escape to the Carolinas, where support for the Confederacy was high, there to fight a guerrilla war from the easily defended Blue Ridge Mountains. His retreat, however, was betrayed by Confederate looters who stole the army’s rations. The route was also eventually cut off by Grant, forcing Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

3) While, in fact, both sides wore a variety of colors in their uniforms, generally the Confederate South (the ‘Rebels’) wore gray and the Union North (the ‘Yankees’) wore blue. Certainly, the grays and the blue coats became standard terms used by both sides to refer to themselves and each other.

4) This story is real in so far as it is historically correct and it is recorded that on at least one occasion a Confederate soldier in the last few days of battle killed his best friend because that friend, like many others and against orders,  was wearing a coat stolen from a dead Northern soldier. The rest of the story, and especially the fear of the fires of hell, is my invention.

5) To be honest, I have no idea if I have authentically caught the patois of the Virginian accent, or just done a poor job of imitating a Hollywood version of that accent. But from the start it was clear to me that the poem had to be told in the first person and modern rules of diction just wouldn’t do. The point is that the soldier was a rustic from a rustic time, dealing with a terrible conditions and burdened by a horrendous act of guilt. That, I hope, still emerges. The word ‘et’ in the second line means ‘eaten.’

6) The ‘piece’ referred to by the speaker would have been his front-loaded musket rifle. Repeating Spencer rifles with modern bullets were introduced at the very end of the war, but only in the North and in very limited supply. By far the most common weapon for both sides was a long-barreled musket, where the gunpowder charge was loaded from the front, then a lead bullet and the whole tamped into place by a rod; an explosive cap was then placed under the hammer. Keeping your powder cartridges and caps dry and being able to perform quick re-loads, even in damp conditions, was the sign of a professional soldier. By this stage of the war, both sides were very, very good at doing this because if a soldier wasn’t, he was long dead.

Thank you for reading I hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at a Civil War re-enactment at Williamsburg, Virginia. The actors were a Southern troop of artilleryman and my standing so close to get that shot meant several hours of ringing ears from the one round they let off. What a real battlefield was like I can hardly, and do not really want to, imagine. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

 

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Mahvash Sabet’s “The Prayer of the Tree”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

The Prayer of the Tree

That hapless tree that sat through all the winter months out there
naked in the snow and ice, it’s shivering branches bare,
broken, wind-torn, bleak and dreary,
bent by the changing seasons, weary,
has finally had an answer to its prayer.
See how the kind Creator full of loving care
has decked it in new garments, fresh and rare!
Have you seen how green it is at last, how finally dressed, how fair?

 

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Can one not but be amazed that anyone, sick and unjustly imprisoned for their faith, could still find the tenderness and gentleness in their heart to write such a delicate and joyous poem? Shame to the Iranian authorities for such an injustice!

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazonin the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of The Prayer of the Tree is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian text into English; all rights reserved.

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Héloïse Haven’s “Parched”

The old wooden bucket plunges deep into the well,
The weathered staves bound by rings once bronzed.
Dangling from the old frayed rope,
It sways with each turn of the tired crank.
Deeper still, wafts of staleness drift upward
Until the small splash echoes laggardly.
The rusty lever groans as it begins the ascent,
Tired and worn from a life of long hauls.
One last crank to reach the light,
The shaft hesitates, the rope wavers,
The weary bucket crashes down.

 

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Héloïse  is a dear friend who has been, thus far, reluctant to publish her very fine poetry. I am hoping by seeing her poem here that she will be convinced to start her own blog and publish more of her work.

To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem © 2014 by Héloïse Haven; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License..

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Sailor’s Creek

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It was the last action of the Army of Northern Virginia,
the final skirmish that bent its knee. A smaller fight
than many, still, it was the most crowded, vicious,
no-quarter-given or asked, bloody, desperate and savage
action of the war. Muskets were useless, except as clubs;
bayonets, knives, rocks, nails—teeth if you had any left—
all were screamed into the melee, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye,
rage-to-rage. The Rebs were tired, starved, ragged phantoms
of sinew, hunger and misery; the Yankees were toughened
campaigners and ready for their end game; they even jeered
‘surrender’ on their first charge, but after dying to a man,
not the second. And so both sides flowed into being
what their hearts had pent up for so long: a red-hot lava
of pure hate, purer desperation and purest hope, so that
the green-green grass was green no more with the slick of it.

And then it was done. The Union soldiers, on seeing the state
of their Confederate prisoners, opened their packs to share
what food they had. Days later, Lee wore his ceremonial sword
to Appomattox, but Grant refused to ask for it, instead offering
terms gentler than had been sought. With permission,
the two officer corps then sought out the friends left living
on the other side. And that night, Lincoln, too tired to give
a speech, asked the band, instead, to play Dixie.
The crowd sang along ’til the end.

 

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The American Civil War (1861-1865) was the bloodiest and most savage conflict the United States has ever engaged in. Although Southern revisionists argued after the war (and since) that the real issue at the heart of the conflict was ‘states rights,’ truthfully it was about slavery and its need to be purged from the land.

The events described in this poem are authentic and exact and were taken from the book Killing Lincoln, which I read recently. This is the first of two poems inspired by the end of the Civil War, the second is I hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me.

For the non-Americans reading this post, a few notes:

1) The two sides of the conflict were: in the North, the Union forces, popularly referred to as Yankees, fighting to preserve the country in its entirety and end slavery; and in the South, the Confederate forces, popularly referred to as the Rebels, or Rebs, who were fighting for secession (the right to leave) from the United States of America to form a separate country, the Confederated States of America (also known as ‘the Confederacy’) which would be built on an economy of slavery.

2) President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest President the country has ever known,  pursued the war with great vigor, but clearly wanted a policy of forgiveness and reconstruction for the South after the conflict was over, to bring it firmly back into the Union. Tragically, this great man was assassinated just after the war and his policies not clearly followed. Jefferson Davis was  his Confederate counterpart. By the time of the events of this poem, the Confederate capitol of Richmond had fallen (on April 3rd, not May 10th, as accounted in the popular song by The Band, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down) and Davis was on the run, soon to be captured on May 10th. (Hence the confusion.) Although held for two years, neither he, nor any of his government, were ever tried for treason.

3) General Ulysses S. Grant was the head of the Union forces and a brilliant campaigner, while General Robert E. Lee, although the titular leader of the Confederate forces, was actually only directly in control of the Army of Northern Virginia. This was the army Lee had lead—his campaigns are still studied by military strategists today—in all his battles throughout the war; they were tough, committed and brave veterans who adored and trusted Lee and would follow him everywhere and anywhere. However, by the end of the conflict, their numbers were greatly reduced through battle, disease, starvation, exhaustion and (once the point seemed useless) desertion. In the last week alone the army’s numbers dwindled from 30,000 to less than 8,000 men.

4) Appomattox (pronounced apho-MAT-ix) was the spot where Lee, finally cut off and surrounded, surrendered to Grant. Grant refused to ask for Lee’s sword, although Lee had worn a large ceremonial one for just that purpose. The terms given by Grant originated with Lincoln and were simple: that every soldier would be cared for and then be free to return home if they did so peacefully; and that no officers, including the generals, would be tried for treason. While Lee’s surrender left over 140,000 Confederate forces still in the field, these held out only for a short time. That surrender at Appomattox, owing to Lee’s popularity and charismatic leadership, was the end of the war.

5) Dixie was a popular minstrel song in the 1850′s throughout the United States. Although not official, it was the de facto anthem of the Confederacy and remains identified with it to this day.

The main consequences of the war were the preservation of the United States, the abolition of slavery (although by no means was this the end of the black struggle for equality) and the creation of an American consciousness: prior to the war, individuals identified with the state they were from; after the war, people, both North and South, saw themselves as Americans. The country had paid for that right in blood.

Thank you for reading Sailor’s Creek. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at dawn in a Civil War era cemetery just outside of Pomfret, CT. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Ian Hamilton’s “Home”

This weather won’t let up. Above our heads
The houses lean upon each other’s backs
And suffer the dark sleet that lashes them
Downhill. One window is alight.

‘That’s where I live.’ My father’s sleepless eye
Is burning down on us. The ice
That catches in your hair melts on my tongue.

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I have previously posted several of Ian Hamilton’s poems, who I believe to be one of the best poets of the second half of the 20th century. It is a tragedy that his work is not better known and that his Collected Poems is out of print.

Note the brevity here, yet too the intensity of emotion, the sense of darkness out on the edge, the quick sense of joy that fades too quickly. All vintage Hamilton, all excellent and all evocative.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “Home”. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

Comments © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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Bike, skidding

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Front wheel rolling, rear one locked,
tail whipping out from behind; grip frozen,
heart pounding, the noise, the road rash,
the bleeding and scaring all but certain now.

There she hangs, neither up nor down
but placid, serene even, as the memories
pull pace and flicker by:
nobody believed her, nobody stopped him,
nobody came, nobody does, nobody will.

Why not? she thinks, looking down.
It’s an embrace she’s certain is her due
and means at least landing somewhere
and having something to cling to.
Sometimes any kiss is worth the price,
if you don’t have to hold yourself up.

After that, don’t ask me how it went,
I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

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Anyone who has ridden a bike in a group setting knows the danger of a sudden fall. For those who have come close (guilty) or actually fallen (ditto), we know that there is a point, just before it happens, when it can go either way. It is a moment of total clarity, where everything freezes and you think, “Will I, or won’t I?” It’s like a full lifetime in a moment.

Thank you for reading Bike, skidding. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken during a day walk in Boston, Massachusetts. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Repeat, as necessary, until believed

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Just a little hibernation—
that and some exhaustion,
nothing more, really.
Thanks for asking though.

 

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Thank you for reading Repeat, as necessary, when asked. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken during a walking day in Boston. What caught my attention is the surprising richness of the tones/details (not to mention the old bubblegum) of something one tends to just usually overlook—the place where you step. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge and Héloïse Haven; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge and Héloïse Haven,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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