Tag Archives: historical poetry

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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Kika Dorsey

Hunger

Austria, 1946

 

I’m hungry all the time.

We forage in the Alps for mushrooms and elderberry blossoms

that we dip in cornmeal and fry from the butter

of a neighbor’s cow.

The oak and beech disappear as I climb

further to fir, larch, and pine.

I pick edelweiss and arnica

to set in the blue glass vase on our table.

We eat the polenta with what we have gathered,

and Mutti is always angry,

Vati a traveling tailor and never around,

hungry stepchildren.

 

Once we accidentally ate poisonous mushrooms.

I knew something was wrong when the August light

turned orange and from the faces of Russian soldiers

emerged black beetles,

and my brother lay holding his stomach and vomiting.

 

My stomach is full of knives.

It is an empty cavern, a cave

where my dead mother dwells below budding breasts.

 

Sometimes I want to cross the River Mur

and never return.

Sometimes the river roils in my body

and I pull the sun into me.

Sometimes I see a golden eagle on the elm tree.

 

He looks royal,

as if he’s won a war.

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Kika Dorsey is a poet and English instructor from Boulder, Colorado. She has published in numerous journals, including the Columbia Review, KYSO Flash, The Denver Quarterly. She has two books published, Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and Rust (Word Tech Editions, 2016). She is currently working on a manuscript about post-WW2 Austria inspired by stories from her Austrian mother. When not writing, teaching, and raising her teenage children, she runs and hikes in the mountains and plains of her Colorado home.

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The Bamberger & Wahrmann Antiquariat Bookshop 

By Maya Wahrman

By now in Germany

rare books were so unwanted you could buy a sack

for only a shilling. So downtown Jerusalem

was bookshops bustling

with treasures of the written word

from the exile-land. Men of faith, famous authors,

 

many frequented his store, mingled among

the bookshelves, set out to explore

the words he owned and printed. Vanilla,

must, tan wood-based pages, bound.

The aroma made a man want books

with his tongue. Some men

 

found books they’d always wanted,

some wanted books they’d just found.

One customer fingered spines as he muttered prayer

under his breath. Rebuild our city Jerusalem,

please, hurry! It was 1939,

Jerusalem was being rebuilt in our time,

 

the storeowner’s home back in Frankfurt

was torn apart.

In the store,

men from all over the city would start

reliving, would meet Jews who seemed

foreign, would accustom themselves

to the desert dry heat of the Judean hills.

 

No longer reliving, now living.

He died. Store shut, past-life books

became harder to find.

But men said and wrote,

the city was never the same

when the doors closed.

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Maya Wahrman graduated from Princeton University’s Department of History, with certificates in Creative Writing and Near Eastern Studies.  She currently works at Princeton’s Office of Religious Life on issues of faith and forced migration. She has had opinion pieces published in the English and Hebrew editions of Haaretz, and has had poetry published in the Nassau Literary Review, the Jewish Currents poetry anthology Urge, and Sweet Tree Review.

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