Convalescence by Alan Steele
In a Petersburg Nursing Home
Was back the summer of sixty four—‘course
That’s eighteen, not nineteen, you understand?
—We lay in a muddy Deep Bottom trench,
On top of hard clods, rocks piercing tender,
Pale, rail think sides, ducked low for cover as
Black powder and sulfur burned inside our
Noses. Musk, mildew, damp and dank mingled with
Stink of charred flesh—danced…stabbed your tongue, clawing
Around the haze and the corn mash amid
Grey, bloodshot eyes.
As tired as I feel now,
As horrid and strong the smell of death and
Ammonia here, on faded tile, cold white;
So much worse then. Sweat drained out below a
Dark wool and cotton, turning loyalty
And elder strength, now crimson sleep and night.
While your granddaddy and his brothers, their
Uncles and neighbors and all their lost kin
Transformed themselves, over and again ‘side
Cannon treads, smoke hid world from infant
Sight. Slavery? Ha! So much more…then, still,
Less, as young and old alike lay side by side.
You know, always and still a Dutch Oven
‘Gainst its lid recalls barefoot coffee, some
Bean hole troop, days of sibling rivalry:
A saber clanging ‘gainst saddle buckles,
Cold iron and hardwood worn slick as ice.
Victory gets to be more question than
Ever were answer, or bodies, be had.