May 11, 2018

A poem by Lucia Walton Robinson: "Re-enactments: The Battle of Forks Road "

Lucia Walton Robinson, born a Hoosier, holds degrees from Butler and Duke Universities and has lived and worked in Manhattan and Florida as book editor and English professor. Shenow lives near her daughter in southeastern North Carolina. Her work has appeared in The Penwood Review, Kakalak 2015 and 2016, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Split Rock Review, Indiana Poetry Journal, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. VII.

Re-enactments: The Battle of Forks Road
       (Wilmington, North Carolina)

White tents of re-enactors cover the ground
like snowmounds, cold reminders of iron hail
the Union flailed on those who split the nation.
Bravely they clashed. Yankees took the harbor,
last one to hold out. Soon the War was done.
Write it in capital letters, so many died.

I slow past the tents, cruise the mile home
imagining horses, wagons, caissons--
suddenly realize they’d have swarmed
the wood behind my house, marched right
through the land I peacefully inhabit,
bindweed grasping at bloodstained brogans–
what if blood that swells my Hoosier veins
was shed right here?

Great-grandfather, born where catbirds call,
wakened instead by the sweet-singing mockers
his folks once woke to in Virginia: did their
melodies mock the blue of his Union jacket?
Oak leaves crunching underfoot, ghost-ridden
moss tangling with his whiskers, cannonboom
driving him on to grapple–did his bayonet
draw kinsmen’s blood? Did shot from his parents’
nephew’s rifle graze his sweat-grimed neck?

Turkey-oak acorns I bag for rescued squirrels
cracked beneath worn-out boots-- likely
both sides treasured whole corns to make coffee.
My yard’s by a swale they might soak them in,
get water, and Barnard’s Creek’s a handy stroll.

Hoosier creeks harbor no ‘gators. After
trailing otter and muskrat on Brandywine,
did he spy a scaly monster in Whiskey Creek,
or just imagine one? Eat skinny gray squirrel
here while dreaming of plump red scolding
chatterers back home? Battle noise
would have driven deer away.

He could have passed a cousin. Could have
cussed him, killed him, never knowing.
I could turn earth they bled in to plant my daffs.

They fought a War that freed some dark-skinned
folk thinned with that same blood, if tales
of lads strayed into cabins held sad truth.
He could have met a dark face like his own,
found common feature in both black and white.
I’ve seen a woman here who twins a well-known
actor–except her satin skin is cocoa-brown.

His forebears in Virginia had owned people.
His parents, hating slavery, traveled west,
forsaking home and comfort to salve conscience.

These re-enactors’ tents are far too white. I think
of Eric’s, stained with red Alabama clay.
Six feet four, the age of my son then,
re-enactor and father to two sweet lads, he took
care of college buildings and my Florida house
and a few others, kept goats to teach his boys,
took them camping at Disney World, would
take them re-enacting when they’re older.
“Do you believe in that cause?” I asked him
of his stars-and-bars regiment: “No, ma’am,” he said,
“but I love the history.” One night class a term,
he was slowly gaining ground on a degree
so he could teach it.

                        Re-enactments leave no dead,
but two months after I moved to Carolina, as he
drove the winding wood-bound road to his home
a dump truck swerved and much-loved Eric died
protecting his family, taking the awful weight
with his big body. I cried to God, I’ve lived
threescore and ten, why not take me instead
of leaving those dear boys without fine father,
his boyhood love to grieve and cope alone?
I think of them now as I think of all young men
who died in strange woods, children left fatherless,
sweethearts and elders who’ve cried to God
for stalwarts lost too soon. For tragic waste.

Did Great-grandfather expiate ancestral sin?
Home from the war, he lived for public service,
sired a large brood of useful citizens, said
he’d be ready to die when he ceased to learn.
A paternal twice-great grandfather piped an Illinois
regiment to Tennessee, where he fell in 1863
long before his army fought to Carolina,
genes and his Irish flute and a bearded tintype
all we have of him. Five children bereft–
yet their sacrifice helped make it sure
a rainbow of free faces filled our college.
A black man of forty told me he was Hamlet,
“crazy as it sounds.” “So am I,” I said.
Waste is re-enacted again and again,
but on this day before Lent begins, as I ponder
how my landscape may be hallowed, a breeze
ferries the cold sweet fragrance of osmanthus,
tinges moss veiling the live oaks with forgiveness.

~Lucia Walton Robinson

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