The Enthusiasts — a poem by John Straley

One of my hopes for this blog is to introduce the occasional poem into our blog mix, as well as features of poets. Later this week, I’ll be running an interview with poet Arlitia Jones. Today, I’m happy to share this poem by John Straley, printed with his permission.

by John Straley

From: THE RISING AND THE RAIN, Collected Poems
(University of Alaska Press, 2008)

The ground was so full of old bones
the boys tried sleeping
standing up,
listening to the Whippoorwills
calling between
the creaking harnesses
and swinging butt chains
of draft horses
pulling cannons into place.

The darkness came up from the ground
like those bones of the soldiers
they were camped upon: skulls
and rib cages kicked up each time
someone tried to dig a hole
or scour a new pad for a tent.

They were near Chancellorsville
where General Lee had claimed a victory
that cost him twenty percent of his army
and the boys made grim jokes
trying to distance themselves
from the next morning when, they knew,
it would happen
all over again.

This was the business of the day.
And when that morning came
the horses from each side whinnied
across the opening, and those boys
stood up straight, shook themselves
then walked into the clearing
where seven thousand of them died
in a little more than an hour.

Look down on us stars
there is nothing left of them now.
Today men scour the ground
with metal detectors,
and fat horses pull cannons
into place for the re-enactment,
while the bees continue
to work the wildflowers
with their sickening
sound and one
in a period costume
reads a list of names,
while the Whipoorwills sing, the sun sets
and nobody dies
right then
right there.

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