For my grandson
“All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.”
— Herman Melville
Monument by monument we’ve found the site.
You’re wearing an officer’s plumed hat
chosen from shelves of replicas, and
over one shoulder an enlisted man’s haversack
stocked with insignia, a clay pipe, a Minié ball—
a ten-year-old, you’re the whole regiment.
You stretch full length beside a witness oak,
on the sloping, lichen-covered stone
where Mathew Brady’s assistants are lounging
in your book of views of the battlefield now
and on the day after Lee’s retreat. The dead
have already been exposed onto glass plates.
You walk the breastworks, now only a slight
rise in the earth beyond the witness tree.
History’s open in your hands. General Greene
and his 102nd New York made its stand
here, defeating the 15th Louisiana
coming through the woods. Lead poisoning
killed many of the trees, you teach me,
and years after the battle, lightning
would set off unexploded shells.
A school bus stops for a moment
and you wave. Then fall mortally wounded,
having so many postures to choose from.
Waiting for your picket to report back,
you stand beside the oak, ostrich plume stirring
in a light wind from the 2nd of July, 1863,
while a rider on horseback bending low,
chunks of moss flying from hooves,
hurtles fallen trees to reach this ground
where blood has yet to come up monuments.