Civil War Triptych

Yakov Rabinovich

 

I

Down through Jersey’s roaring wasteland

of highways, billboard and mall,

where all the life’s leached from the landscape

by proximate Manhattan, whither all roads

and all hopes tend;

 

down through Pennsylvania’s tidy

Germanic farmland, quilted in crops,

high silos, patchwork of fields

striated in various green;

 

then the Mason Dixon, a magic line:

passing beyond it into Maryland:

the very woods

more cordial with their shade, grow fuller leaved.

Up north the stingy Yankee seed

grows (in comparison) meager trees,

scraggly and mean.

 

The American south is South America

in its August green luxuriance,

its humidity, and its shout-loud shrilling

of cicadas.

 

Dilapidated graciousness of old veranda’d homes:

dilapidated graciousness of the southern soul.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

II

 

Antietam: tactical pastures,

battle pastorale,

today, as then, farmland. Square neat fields,

like a chess-board, occasionally bristling still

here and there an infantryman — solitary bronze

 monument on high granite pedestal,

a pawn left over from a chess-tournament

of gods no one quite believes in now.

 

Pawns in this first of modern wars:

officers fell as thick as the enlisted, 

to longer range muskets rifled precise.

Flesh fell to mechanized metal

with hideous ease, mowed more than murdered,

a field of green recruits in a green Virginia field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brady's gray photographic stills

of brave Gray soldiers forever stilled

still flicker up at us, a panoramic

nightmare steam-punk flip-book movie,

frame by final frame.

 

Mathew Brady (only one “t”)

spent a hundred thousand of his own dollars

making ten thousand black and whites

of the Blue and the Gray.

 

After the war, the Government decided

not to buy the archive after all.

Debt forced Brady to sell his studio,

the heavy glass negative plates

were auctioned off as scrap to patch greenhouses.

 

Brady went blind, died in the charity ward

of Presbyterian Hospital in New York,

while sunlight bleached away his negative spectres,

the ghosts a nation didn’t need to see

to believe in.

 

 

 


 

 

III

 

  

 

The Adirondack lakes are long flat gleams

stretching to forests dense and tall

and abrupt at their marge.

White fog rises from them in the dawning air,

cold smoke of the mountains.

Here John Brown, creature of belief,

with a Yankee’s cold clarity 

drew his red conclusions

down to Harper’s Ferry.

 

Brown's conclusions finally drew

Blue troops across the Shenandoah valley.

Marching Yankees looked up at the rounded

distant ranks of Massanutten mountains

hulking, huge and rounded, shouldering the sky

their silhouette an implausible powder blue

against bright azure.

 

Up there, on some utmost peak,

Jackson, bearded like a prophet of Jehovah,

scanned with his sky-colored eyes

the range’s heights and hills warming with the dawn,

pale vapor evanescing from their masses,

dark green islands emerging

from a ghostly sea of fog,

a tattered cloth of clouds.

 

 

 


 

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