I live and write in Portland, Oregon. Forty years ago my mother gave me a collection of letters for safekeeping. These were written to my great-grandmother, Annie Dunn, by her brothers and her fiancé — who were, at that time, soldiers in the Civil War. The men were Indiana volunteers. This poem is about those letters and my personal reaction to them. Website: www.triciaknoll.com.
Letters from Union Soldiers
Their sixty letters of rusted-iron ink are safe in my black-and-gold hatbox
on a high shelf, accounts of mud-sucked marching boots minimize their wounds.
I wish they had hated slavery, held bellies on fire to fight to emancipate.
They fought to keep a union as one, to halt a dividing house.
On my closet shelf, accounts of mud-sucked marching boots minimize their wounds,
standing picket, aching to hear from home, recounting how many died.
They fought to keep a union whole, to halt a dividing house,
marching with Sherman to the sea. New boots somewhat tight.
Standing sentry, asking to hear from home, recording how many died,
the Dunns made do. Lewis knew the goals of engagement
marching with Sherman to the sea. Worn-out boots not quite right,
furloughs postponed, rebel camps less than a mile by, hours in six-foot trenches.
The Dunns made do. William Lewis shared the goals of engagement,
his disdain for the drafted, secessionists and Copperheads, no mention then of slavery
midst furloughs denied, rebels’ dawn musket fire, hours stacked up as sentries.
These are my men. Their helixes of genes twirl down to me.
Disdain for the drafted, secessionists and Copperheads, few mentions of blacks,
I wish they had hated slavery, held bellies on fire to fight for freedom.
These men of mine. Intertwining helixes of genes twirl down to me
in handwritten scrawls of rusted-iron ink, buried in a bandbox.
©2015 Tricia Knoll