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Andrea Wyatt

Mr. Siegal’s Sharpshooters: First Battle

1. 

Mr. Howard arrived during seeding
to exhort the young men of Ripley
to take up arms; he wore wired-rimmed glasses
and city clothes, dusty from his long journey.
He carried a strongbox and a pile of broadsides.

Your country needs you!
Protect the western frontier!
Free uniforms, Free firearms!
Stand up with President Lincoln!
Twenty-five dollars bounty to Enlist!
Cost what it may, Our nation must be saved!

Mr. Howard sat at a makeshift table that Saturday
in front of Jenkin’s Feed Lot,
and Frankie and Louis and I signed up;
Mama cried and said I was too young, I wasn’t to go,
Frankie’s Daddy beat him—who will work the fields, he raged.

Louis, who was an orphan, and lived with Reverend Loomey and his wife,
stood up at Methodist meeting and said he was going to war;
the girls rushed to his side afterwards,
where he stood by the lilacs, and said how brave he was.

My sister Maggie started knitting him socks.
I will be back for you in a fortnight, said Mr. Howard,
meanwhile practice your march, and then he left
on the next stage to Washington.

Weary with dread as daylight looms
behind a stand of American elm,
leafed out, filled with the dawn’s light,
we are preparing for battle

It’s August now, and it’s been a hot summer,
but there’s a breeze this morning,
and as we brush the dirt from our uniforms,
we talk about fishing along the Kanawha.

2/

Captain comes to check our feet.
Make certain there’s no holes, he says,
a soldier can’t fight on sore feet
and have a bite to eat, boys,
a soldier can’t fight without a bit of meat

When the drummer starts to beat, we take our place on line
rifles to the ready, shoulders touching;
three sets of eyes strain to see the firing command,
the bells ring out and firing commences

We take our time to aim and a rhythm overcomes us,
aim, fire, load, aim, fire, load and the air
gets heavy with dust and smoke

My fingers ache, holding the rifle tight,
and grit in our eyes makes it hard to see the enemy
who’ve crouched down low in shallow holes
they’ve dug, and our ears ring from the
din of screams and guns

The drummer carries water to the boys on the line
and once an hour the captain comes by;
we’re holding on, boys he says, we’re holding on,
I believe they are retreating, I believe we’ve got them licked.

It’s closer to dusk than dawn when the battle is done,
and we stretch our sore legs and look around
to see who’s left and see who’s down

The medics hurry into the field with stretchers
to carry the bloody wounded away, we take off our boots and socks
as Frankie begins to sing:

“All quiet along the Potomac tonight,
where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
and their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
and the light of the campfires are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh as the gentle night wind
thro’ the forest leaves slowly is creeping,
while the stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
keep guard o’er the army while sleeping.”

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Andrea Wyatt is the author of three poetry collections. Her work has appeared lately in Clackamas, Gargoyle, and Gravel. Wyatt’s poem “Sunday Morning Gingerbread” was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart. She works for the National Park Service in Washington, DC and is associate editor of the poetry journal By&By.

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Andrea Wyatt

BUFFALO HUNT: 1884

 

The grass to the north of the herd was burned—

the buffalo, surrounded on all sides,

were helpless before the hunters; there were

buffalo lying dead on the prairie

so thick that we could hardly see the ground.

we walked for twenty miles on their white bones—

 

A thousand head evaded the hunters,

Sitting Bull led his band from Standing Rock

to hunt buffalo as they’d always done—

they found the herd midway between Bismarck

& the Black Hills – in two days of hunting

in October, wiped out the last of them –

no hides came off the plains in 1884:

you could smell the stink as far west as the Rockies.

THE BEAGLE SIGHTS LANDFALL

I. Christmas in Tierra del Fuego, 1832

black horizon

rain squalls

land pushing into the sea

mist veiled

dimly outlined by wind and water

anchored in Wigwam Cove

the Beagle sights landfall

on Christmas Eve

 

turns west

sea ominous

wildly blowing gale

 

Darwin writes,

 

“a dreary waving plain

with patches of drifted snow

the ship labored

against the wind.”

 

II. THE LUCAYANS

unless their fists were filled with pearls, the Spanish

wouldn’t let them come up for air

threw them into the sea

pressed their heads down with oars

 

(Columbus marveled at their peaceable

and trusting dispositions)

 

for years,

Portuguese navigators

charted their course

through the Bahamas

by the bodies of Lucayans floating in the water.

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Andrea Wyatt was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Silver Spring, MD. She works for the National Park Service and is coeditor of The Brooklyn Reader (Random House/ Harmony).

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