Sestina: The soldier's vision

November 26, 1996|By Maria Garriott

At First Bull Run, the ninety-day

recruits left the field, their time

was up, their soldier's duty done.

They turned for home, though the smell

of powder clung, like mother's hands,

around their necks, sad, enduring.

They left, refusing to endure.

The Union Army fled, the smell

of death pursuing. The natal day

was lost; now the plagues of war and time

would ravage town and farm until, done

and spent, the South surrendered bloody hands.

Years later, did their hands,

whole, unscathed, shame them? Did the day

they refused to serve haunt them, time

replaying, flaunting what they had done?

Did they, escaping one hell, endure

another, always followed by the smell

of failure? Or did they deny? Was the smell

of victory requisitioned, a coat in time

for winter storms? ''We served our day,''

they tell slack-jawed children, enduring

undeserved adulation, other hands

raised to salute deeds undone.

I am weary of men who say they're done,

who enlist and drill yet leave the day

the bugle sounds. I see their hands

still soft, shoulders unbent by time

or crosses. They sniff the air, smell

spring somewhere else, and endure

no more hardship. Why endure

when they can lay down arms, done

with blistered feet? They return home, hands

clapping a hero's welcome. But day

after day, the battle drags on, I smell

smoke even in my dreaming time.

We who stay endure betrayal at the hands

of those who did not count the cost in time, toil, days

that would smell like sweat. They do not know what they have done.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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