. Bunker Hill an excerpt from the forthcoming Legends of Liberty, Vol. 2 . The Eve of Battle The midnight moon. The month of June. A neck Of land. A hill of sand. A group of shadows With wheelbarrows—squeaking. “Quiet, heck!” —“No speaking—whisper!” Shovels out, they burrowed Ditches and raised up walls of earth and rail And trees and stones and shoes and—really? Yessir. You own, you use. Near dawn, near done, one flailed To others from his dugout (an old dresser): “Hey—over there—a taller hill!” Uh-oh. They’d fortified Breed’s Hill. “This good or bad?” Dunno. Meanwhile, the Sons of Liberty were huddled. A room. In gloom. A single candle flame. The British would attack soon. Thoughts, Sons? Muddled. One Libertarian freed speech: “Let’s name A major general to lead us—focus Our army.” Army? “Band, I mean. Er—force Of farmers, traders. Fighters, all!” (Of locusts.) But who was qualified to head this farce? All heads turned towards the Prez of their committee— Joseph Warren! Why him, though? Those eyes. (So pretty.) After the meeting, Warren took to bed. These sleepless nights of planning piled to stack A migraine on his cares. His Bible spread To Second Chronicles: “Josiah took Away abominations…that pertained To the children…” (drooping) “…Israel, and…” Closing The book, eyes fluttered out the windowpane, Thoughts on his little ones… and her. Imposing A pensive scalpel on the pane to bless The glass, he traced two precious letters: M and S. . Ballad for the Boston Soldier The minuteman. The moment that gun clicks, Feel dread. You can be sure it won’t neglect you. The minuteman. In less than sixty ticks, You’re dead. Your fancy training won’t protect you. The minuteman. The button on your coat Is his bullseye. Your running shoes are bootless. The minuteman. His bullet will demote You on the fly. Uprooting him is fruitless. Go charge and bayonet him—if you can. Or yield, my noble captain. Hail the minuteman! He came from planting crops, smothered in soil; He came from candle shops, dangling wicks; He came from whaling ships, covered in oil; He came from filling kilns, hardened like bricks. He came with fowling pieces (good for birds); He came with shotguns (cut for riding coaches); He came with dueling pistols (good for turds); He came with rifles (used on what he poaches). But could assorted brawny arms suppress, Like Samson, fluted columns piping their Brown Bess? . Bunker Hill The afternoon of June the Seventeenth, Lord William Howe was pacing Boston’s beach Before his soldiers: “I’ll not stand beneath You on the hill—nor ask you march to breach A place I would not march myself.” HUZZAH! Five thousand redcoats shouted, voices storming. “We’ll go seize Bunker Hill, then drive out—" —“Ah, Sir? The provincials took Breed’s Hill this morning.” —“Breed’s Hill?” —“It’s lower.” —“Then they’ll tumble harder!” Men loaded onto thirty boats and crossed the harbor. Burgoyne, advancing to the hill, performed A plea: “To the Deluded Multitude: Attend the voice of reason, knaves. Be warned— You cannot win! What serves this family feud? It profits neither side.” (His hands were soaring.) “Of king and countrymen, you’ve run afoul. Submit, submit, submit!” (His arms, imploring.) “…And gracious George will grant you pardon, fools.” The speech was (like his play) a flop. The drama Hung in the air, contributing to battle trauma. Gen. Johnny bowed. No claps? A bullet zipped Above his head. “Huh?” Zing. “Wha?” Whizz—from Charles- town? Marksmen in abandoned buildings clipped An epaulet—well-tailored, too! The churls. And then, between the officer and isthmus, A sunken ship erupted from the depths— The Somerset!—to fix unfinished business. Its dead crew gnawed dead fish, invoking Death. Graves whispered to the ocean like a wizard And aimed artillery to start a flaming blizzard. Picture a man-of-war engulfing prey Immobilized by venomed, coiling tendrils: Just so, black sails were flailing past the prow, The moldy, ragged shreds like spilling entrails As a cold breeze propelled the ship towards town. Its distant cannon smoked: a dreaming head Was splattered on a friend. A fist of brown Dirt wiped away the bits of mind that had Been whole and open—where shared thoughts, hard-put To work out words, were shortened by a foot. The Somerset let off a broadside: balls Came crashing like a thundercloud, or a quake That belches tidal waves from Neptune’s bowels. A building, set ablaze, began to shake And then collapsed, burying Boston drawls Within. The fire spread through streets, windblown, As browncoats ran in all directions, drills Forgotten, hugged by flames or crushed by stone. From their low hill, companions watched the flashes Reflecting in the bay as Charlestown burned to ashes. Graves swiveled southwards—the redoubt! A boom. Two sofa-sitters turned to feather soup. A desk (with dork) was splintered. Next to bomb: A Franklin Stove (not working, no big whoop). How would they rest, how write, how heat a home? Men, crouching, asked as furniture went flying. Survival was the final comfort. Some Thought freedom’s dream a pillow; others, crying For bed, watched lines of troops amass below, And hurried to escape the coming hammer blow. A round shot flowered fleeing men—a vernal Shower of gory cotton leaves. The spate Of running swelled. Their officer, one Col. Will Prescott, shouted to abbrev. Retreat: with the generic title “Sir…” He flagged deserters coming from good stock, As labeled addressees—a gallant Mr. And savage, hastily truncated Dr. Were slurred by shelling—gentlemen no more. Stern Prescott summoned all his eloquence—and swore. The panicked soldiers halted: a well-dressed Figure in white stood out against the dirt- Stained coats. A Bible pressed against his vest Of satin, stunned provincials watched him dart Up the hill, brandishing a saber: Major General Joseph Warren!—Running toward The redoubt? He reached the top and made a wager With Colonel Prescott: not to raise his sword Up in command, but as a tool to preach. Then, turning to the shell-shocked men, he made a speech: “Why fleeing, friends? When liberty’s the prize, Who’d shun the warfare? Who would stop to waste A coward thought on life? This land we praise So highly must be bought with blood—the worst That can befall a man is death! What sweeter Sacrifice to warm our soil: a clime Of virtue, an asylum from all cheaters And tyrants, till the final shock of time Shall bury all the empires of the earth In undistinguished ruin! What’s your freedom worth?” Each man looked to his left, then to his right: Each dirty face hid fear, darkened resolve. One man thought of the thousand wrongs the spite Of Britain did him, not to be absolved, And sought to mete a thousand back. A pained Old veteran recalled his training, hardened. An ex-slave vowed he’d not return to chains. Each soldier stood in self-reflection, heartened By rhetoric they’d barely listened to, Then turned to fight and prove their private reasons true. . Ballad for British Soldiers Death or glory. Be the best. Just fall In line. Their order digs your row of graves. Death or glory. Your request. Go crawl And whine. To kill you, they’ll cross distant waves. Death or glory. Greece had grandeur, but No class. Rome’s legions were confined to flatness. Death or glory. Take one in the gut. Eat grass. Their charge dashed off the modern atlas. Know the motto?—‘With your shield, or on it.’ Poor tailors, Spartans. Redcoats are their shields, doggonit. They came from London streets, pressed into service; They came from Irish pubs, drinking and brawling; They came from hilly Wales: browbeaten, nervous; They came from Scottish jails, standards appalling. They came with gambling debts (cause to get paid); They came with hangovers (minds ironclad); They came with syphilis (something to trade); They came with felonies (don’t make them mad). Harsh floggings trained these local vagabonds To treat the Seven Seas like English garden ponds. . The First Wave Lord Howe: “What see you? Terror-stricken faces?” Lord Clinton (through a spyglass, moving lips): “Light-colored coat. White satin vest. With laces Of silver. Breeches—white—with silver loops.” Howe (grabbing, glancing): “What the—”—“Think… their leader?” —“He’ll rue the day! An easy mark, the fop.” Howe’s aide-de-camp approached, bearing a liter Of French rosé that sparkled with a pop. A sip, a sigh, a sword raised towards the blue. A bright volcano spewed: A-hoo! A-hoo! A-hoo! The infantry stood, swaying like a rose Bed in the wind beneath the hill: the steep Incline, the muskets glinting in the rays— The slaughter lay above, and they the sheep. Some swilled their rum for courage; others mumbled Prayers—but most were galvanized by fear. Burgoyne cried, “Forward, march!” As soldiers stumbled, He added: “Any man who quits his peers Will suffer execution. Grant no quarter!” Speeches are better when they’re tangible (and shorter). Each redcoat looked ahead. One’s mind was on His son; another’s, on his neck; one, rubbing His barrel, swore a promise to the lawn To give these damn colonials a drubbing. The threats of their superiors rang loud Inside each head as footsteps trampled clovers. Above, stern Prescott ordered men to load, But wait to see “the whites of their eyes.” Closer, Closer… and blood-shot scleras hit the glare Of black-eyed muskets. —“Fire!” Smoke suffused the air. Men staggered, tumbled backwards—cursing God, Rolling like logs—balls cutting columns deep. Survivors. Tripped. Flee-falling. Like a dog That tucks its tail and runs once it has peed On public property, hot on the mating Hunt when it’s Cupid-bitten, foaming mad To rut, uncollared, wild from brutal taming. This river altered by a beaver dam Again flowed upwards, rippled cries reversing— Deflated tennis balls thrown back for a re-serving. These soldiers earned their epithets anon. There fell the Counselor of Crows, eyes blear; Nobodies of the Glancing Bearskins (nine Of them); slow-footed Whats-His-Name, a blur Of red who couldn’t quite escape the mess. Spectators high above might, through the murk Of clouds, mistake this for a frog-and-mice Battle—and yet the subject to be mocked Was man. Most practiced little arête; Their excellence was formed by fertilizing clay. Some inexperienced trigger fingers fumbled— The fear of death is often overwhelmed By the horror of aggression. Redcoats crumpled Nearer, nearer. Falling corpses swelled And sprawled. Frantic colonials tried stacking Them, forming grisly breastworks—not made stiff By rigor mortis, though, their limbs slumped, sticking Out—flabby, shapeless mounds of fleshy stuff. The niceties of war are engineered, One (posthumously) learns—and bad memoirs revered. The bullets zinged round Joseph Warren’s posh White linens as he rushed where wounds were to Be made, not healed. He cheered the men to push The British back by pointing to the few Refulgent coats not washed out to a pinkish Orange against the sun: the crimson dye Of officers ran deeper red as priggish Young noblemen who’d paid good gold for day- Bright wool fell dead, confusing rank and file, Whose fraying lines unraveled with their cheap textiles. Israel Putnam, veteran of France And Britain’s Seven Years’ long war, reached out And yanked down Warren as a cannon glanced His shoulder. Clouds of dirt hit the redoubt. Putnam, his beard as grizzled as a bear, His ragged coat a mountain lion’s shag, Grit yellow teeth and growled (while swilling beer): “What are you doing here, you fool?” (A shrug.) “You in command?” (A shake.) “Well still—don’t strut Around like that!”—“It’s nice to see you too, Old Put.” . The Final Push Lord Howe: “What see you through these cannon showers?” Lord Clinton’s spyglass: “Corpses, corpses, corpses.” —“Good. Excellent.”—“Not quite, my lord—they’re ours.” Howe (nabbing, scanning): “Rally all our forces.” The troops discarded knapsacks, pouches, gear. Survivors clumped in threeish vague formations. Howe marched in front at right; Burgoyne, mid-rear, Cried: “Forward!” Clinton led his lower stations At left. A fortress of frugality Versus a cold triumvirate’s brutality. Monomaniacal, Lord Howe made red Rain down: the sun burned darker, hotter, rayed Its heat; the planet Mars, enlarging, rowed Against the starry ocean’s course and reigned In the red sky, a pumpkin moon; the raid Uphill accelerated: runners rode Over the red-stained stumps, all bent like reeds War elephants had trampled down. Howe’s rude Red eyes glowed bright: this day would not be rued. His red quartz necklace glowed; aristo bloodlust blued. As Henry Clinton guided the left flank, A nest of flies and bees and beetles, bugs Of chaos and decay, swarmed round his rank Like body armor: zipping into bags Under the Yankees’ eyes to blind them, eating Away the rotting bodies in his path. A-stroll upon a mild summer outing, He pulled enlisted men to buzzing deaths: “March, maggots!” Privates fell in heaps, their warm Life spilled by foes—nutrition for a friendly swarm. They marched up, mad, · the middle lads, · hit hard. De-haired, one head; · another pled · to not So neatly fill · the bald spot. Foiled. · The horde Was herded forth · by noble-birthed · red knights: Each nut was rolled · by sword tip—riled, · pushed through By true Burgoyne. · But with each gain, · recoil: Their column, boweled · by frontal balls, · split three Ways. Throwing out · his arm, John shouted, · “Kill, My children!” Hack. · Too rough. Poor backs, · their joints Ungentlemanned, · were carved—then mined · by bullet points. There, crowded at the top, crouched Thomas Thorpe. At Concord he had felt his captain’s heart- Blood spurt upon him. Now, he tried to cope With cannon-fire that threw up soil to heights Near heaven, churning seeds and bones as devils Gained ground: the redness of the redcoat lines, The red of raging cheeks; the red sun—evils Unfiltered. Red red red. His moral lens Became a spectrum polarized by fright. From here on out, he’d only see in black and white. Howe led his grenadiers, preventing flight, Drinking his sparkling wine as troopers fell To the left and right. He passed the empty flute Back to his aide-de-camp (“More zinfandel!”), Who filled it from a bottle at his breast. Howe, sipping, glimpsed a figure through his glass: Larger than life, concave—that fellow dressed In white… pointing at him? A musket blast, A cloud of smoke, and Howe stood quite alone, Unharmed amidst a regiment of blood and bone. His servant dead, his bottle shattered (“Damn!”); Lieutenants, captains, privates at his feet; The glass his fingers held, a broken stem— Howe stood atop the hill, pristine and neat. Defenders lifted heads away from muskets; Below, a medic halted making slings; A cannon-loader dropped his ammo bucket; Even the birds (perhaps) stopped flapping wings: The hill fell silent so that all could stare At William Howe, resplendent in his scarlet flair. “What are you doing? Shoot him!” Prescott cried. Heads fell back down and muskets clicked. No smoke. “No ammunition left,” Old Put replied. Howe glowered at the dirty faces. Choked With anger, drawing out his saber, he Rushed the redoubt and leapt the breastworks—slashing Faces, impaling backs that tried to flee, Parrying muskets. Blanketed in splashing Traitors as Mars incarnadined the long Dry afternoon, Howe thought of an old army song. He whistled out of tune while swinging para -llel, making feasts for worms: blood ran like wine. This singing swordsman was a giddy pyro Purging a matchbox; poor combatants—wan Sunbathers idling on a sandy lake— Reclined on Boston’s shore. Then, hit, he faltered: A bullet spilled his ichor, looking like A yellow cloud of flat champagne, unfiltered, That muddles heads when mixed in bad mimosas. Howe’s shifting vowels turned vile: a model of mimesis. Just as a lion wounded in the chest While running through a herd of wildebeests Escapes by jumping towards a cliff, and pressed Between the rocks and vultures keen to feast On his carcass, manages to claw up far Towards the top, where waits his cunning, low Advisor jealous of his kingship, Scar, Who throws him off (how could you do it, bro?) As Mufasa’s son, the innocent young Simba, Sees everything and flees to partner up with Pumba And—oops, that simile won’t get produced For several centuries! Too bad, it might Have given Homer a creative boost. His long analogies throughout his fights Get tedious and make the action slow— How many things can lions be compared to? I’m limited to ten-line stanzas, so My ‘epyllionic’ similes, if dared to Run on, will tire, just like a lion cub That, straying from its den, becomes hyena grub. . Note: The “two precious letters: M and S,” refers to Warren’s fiancée, Mercy Scollay. . . Andrew Benson Brown has had poems and reviews published in a few journals. His epic-in-progress, Legends of Liberty, will chronicle the major events of the American Revolution if he lives to complete it. Though he writes history articles for American Essence magazine, he lists his primary occupation on official forms as ‘poet.’ He is, in other words, a vagabond.