"Recognition: North and South" by Constant Mayer‘Prelude to the Gettysburg Address’ by Arthur Mortensen The Society April 17, 2017 Culture, Poetry, Short Stories 3 Comments Posting atop the hill beyond the field in rain so thick he barely saw the bodies, the General tilted back his hat and sat, shaking his head. His horse shifted a foot and whinnied, a grazing wound across its haunch still oozing blood, an equine service stripe its tail would whip to chase away the flies. The cannon silent, Lee’s army now withdrawn, the residue of those three days now lay, their arms, if still attached, askew, their legs apart or vanished, their uniforms wet gray with stains across the chest or back or thighs, their heads thrown back, their mouths in some surprise, more rows and heaps of tangled dead than Meade had ever seen. Twenty-five thousand sprawled below and all around the Round Tops’ heights, most of them Lee’s, but many of his own. A crowd of privates walked among these dead, searching every body for a trace of names to register their bloody passing. Beside Meade’s mount, a splintered oak stood stripped by bullets of its leaves, its roots exposed by craters opened up by mortars or by cannon balls. He’d heard a few whiz by his ears that afternoon before the end, but comforted by knowing that just one would separate his body into shreds as if a god with tiger claws had ripped apart his skin and bones, he hadn’t moved except to cross behind the crouching men then decimating Pickett’s line of charge. He knew the reasons why, but hadn’t time to offer philosophical resolve to badly bloodied troops, nor for the mother of one dead boy from Boston, a neighbor’s son, for whom he’d have to write a dreaded letter when decision had been reached for hot pursuit. A Colonel in the cavalry rode up, his right arm splinted and his left eye patched. “We did it, sir!” ________________And Meade nodded his head, taking the simple words as cue to wheel, salute the man, and canter off the hill. But met on this great battlefield of war, would words satisfy the mothers, wives and children they had done in? Doubting that, he frowned, knowing he had poor power to add or detract from what the Civil War had brought to make the little town of Gettysburg a final resting place for those brave men who thought they brought the best of life to battle for a cause already lost. Of course the world would long remember, and hold the dead responsible for acts of politicians, as heroes of the North, or villains of the South, but who had sent them, commanding to death these fragile, boyish lives? What policy commanded life and death? But Meade didn’t want to dwell on that; what wailing would he miss he hadn’t heard in this grim victory that chased the Grays back south toward homes that Blues would soon be burning? A battered march of wounded crossed his path, all rebel boys under a careless guard who shouted “your eyes right” as Meade went by, snapping a quick salute to all of them, but staring down at mangled teenage boys whose beards were mostly powder burns and mud, whose uniforms were torn and matted brown, and in whose hollow, haunting eyes he saw exhaustion, grief and most of all deep fear. How many bragged before the battle started of all the Yankees they would kill, recruits in boyish shouts, the veterans in rage at what they must have known would soon occur? All soldiers’ stories have the same hard ring that sounds above the empty well of death; he knew they whispered them as he rode by. And, though he couldn’t hear a word, he felt a tear welling, and wanted to step down and speak to each of them as to his own, speak of a future won, the unfinished work that someone, pointing to this hallowed ground, could dedicate to memories of the dead. But he held back, taking a breath instead, and spurred his horse onward until he reached the headquarters tent, where Lincoln stood outside under a stovepipe hat, waiting to hear of victory, but sober as a preacher who’d found the other side of marriage vows was that dark space where spouses lay in peace. Arthur Mortensen has been published in Sparrow, Poetry Nottingham, Blue Unicorn; American Arts Quarterly; Ekphrasis; The Lyric; Trinacria; Orbis; Pennsylvania Review, and others, with poems forthcoming in The Dark Horse, Pennsylvania Review and Chronicles. He has published three books: A Disciple After the Fact; A Life in The Theater; Why Hamlet Waited So Long. A chapbook from the 90s, Relics of the Cold War, was performed as a play by the Medicine Show Ensemble in New York Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Related 3 Responses David Hollywood April 17, 2017 A wonderful epic poem requiring of being delivered and enacted and emphasised! Reply Amy Foreman April 20, 2017 Thank you, Arthur–this is a very moving poem! Reply Wilbur Dee Case April 23, 2017 You are at the edge of great, narrative, dramatic power. I enjoy the occasional pictoral [sic] detail, “still oozing blood, an equine service stripe/ its tail would whip to chase away the flies…” and rhetorical gambits, “Beside Meade’s mount, a splintered oak stood stripped/ by bullets of its leaves, its roots exposed/ by craters opened up by mortars or/ by cannon balls.” Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.