Volume 68, Number 1 · Fall 2018

Of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers

for Nate Klug

Gerald the Reenactor,

bespectacled and sweating under blue kepi cap

and replica sack coat, points his trigger

finger skyward at the lopped-off branches of the veteran elms—

These very same trees stood here

for the dedication in 1897, he says,

the crownless centenarians rising up out of vaulted ground

like a pair of scarred arms without hands.

Posted in front of the Shaw Memorial all afternoon,

he’s scholarly, avuncular, almost priestly,

with wooden musket, battered three-ring binder, and nylon gym bag,

personal effects of the Union dead.

For a Lincoln you can have a photo taken with him.

Hard though to picture him in battle as Sgt. William H. Carney

storming Fort Wagner, throwing down his gun,

seizing the flag like a spear, taking fire…

When a hop-on hop-off tour bus pulls up

to the curb on Beacon, Gerald pauses mid-sentence,

head cocked, fact-checking bullet points

sprayed into a microphone by a pimpled sapling tour guide—

the first black regiment formed in the North,

the blue-blooded Bostonian Shaw who saw the war as a holy cause,

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s meticulous fourteen-year delay,

the models he hired for realism—

before launching back into his own lesson

about Carney, who saved the regimental colors,

Carney who received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry,

Carney who died from a freak elevator accident

while delivering a letter, there across the street…

Over his dust- and pollen-coated shoulder the silent stomping

boots of the bronze soldiers still trample the air.

Dropped into the corner of the sculpture,

a pine cone and sprig of evergreen precede and follow history.

Next weekend he’ll be in New Bedford,

where he—that is, Carney—was buried a free man.

If Commander grants permission, he’ll visit the grave.


Hai-Dang Phan was born in Vietnam and raised in Wisconsin. His first book of poems, Reenactments, will be published this February with Sarabande.