Played by Jeff Daniels in the Movie

Curled up with the Battle of Fredericksburg (the first one)

while nursing cold coffee

on a warm bed one early afternoon in April

reading

of the predawn darkness

 

Dec. 11, 1862

blank rear walls faced the Rappahannock to the west

at 4:45 an alert was given

the Confederates saw the Federals building their bridges for the assault

at daylight the firing began

140 big guns; 5,000 rounds of heavy artillery

the Rebs shot a few engineers on their jerry-rigged bridges

but they kept building anyway

in the background pontoon boats crossed the river with Yankees

and they were fired upon

many men folded over gripping their faces

limbs splayed out in a dance where death has cut the cords that give purpose to arms and legs

chins pointed to the sky as if seeing the stars for the first and last time

while a house riddled with bullet holes stands idle nearby taking it all in

 

on Dec. 13 and 14

Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Main Volunteers (played by Jeff Daniels in the movie)

writes at night of throwing himself into a slight hollow of ground

of the reddening of the night’s sky with fire

of smothered moans that rose and fell but could not be located

of wails so fat and deep and wide, thousands could be making it

of skies broken by calls for help, begging for water, for God, for pity

of the howls to end their suffering, finish what the enemy could not

of the delirious voices wet with the names of their loved ones

of the last bit of their strength and courage decorating the air over the battlefield

and of that deep bass note humming behind closed lips

too hopeless, heroic or proud to scream

 

later I’ll read the last words of “Stonewall” Jackson’s life (shot by his own men)

“let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”

 

I’ll wonder how many of the dead floating in the Rappahannock in 1862

would have wished to do the same thing as the bass note slowly faded out forever

behind their lips, lips still holding the same rigid formation of the blank rear walls

of the pontoon boats that floated many of them to their deaths

 

facing the west

I imagine the sun

as it prepares to finally set down the glory of its heat into a river

which means “river of quick, rising water” or “where the tide ebbs and flows” in Algonquin

 

regardless of where we take our ball (friendly fire or not so friendly)

when death cuts our cords and we dance to the earth

we all die with someone’s name wet on our mouths

we all want the shade of the trees across the river.

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