(Bentonville, N. C. March 19-21, 1865)
Across late-frosted fields, shells toss
dirt, pines and flesh high in air
sliced by grape shot and canister.
For me, war's done, blown away from toes
to thigh. Now the other leg's black
and some Reb surgeon cleans his bonesaw
in my blood. Yet all I see is Emma's
soft arms cradling our son, showing off
his thatch of auburn hair just like mine.
"You damn Yanks've won," spit the gory
men who trundle out the bodies, toss
severed parts on heaps outside the door.
I don't think I'm even here because I
smell warm, clean hay as I toss it high
on the wagon, feel the sweet, private
ache of blistered hands when day's done.
Emma's song floats through the window.
Supper shared in heavy dusk, then up
to our bed where we can hear the rumble
of distant summer storms. Goldsboro's
taken! How far that is from home
don't matter. I'm as near now as I'll
ever be. I wonder if, before I left,
I gave Emma the little girl she wanted,
the one she said should have her yellow
hair and what she called my sweet-formed
lips. Too late for dreams. Which flag
I fought beneath won't save me. When
the battle's done, all uniforms are red.