Taps Played for the First Time
Harrison’s Landing Virginia, July, 1862
A sentinel paces in the moldering dank,
exercising the manual to no end
but to keep himself upright and alive —
shoulder arms, support arms, right shoulder shift —
while midsummer insects flourish in his sweat,
creeping down and through, drawing nourishment,
then lodging in his vestments and his skin.
As his flannels ferment he contemplates
the distinction between Noxious Effluvia
and Laudable Pus.Â He thinks of the grand
landscaping of the neighboring estate,
the view to the river from the Georgian hall,
down the allee through the ancient archway,
through rounded boxwood, cedar and myrtle
that lean in steel heat like sages or crones.
This night so tired he sees beyond the fire
demons dancing around Post Number One
and hears from woods beyond the songs of friends
dead only a week and too suddenly,
their bodies abandoned in White Oak Swamp
to mingle with the vapors now rising
and settling in a fog around the camp,
dulling the snores and farts of half-clad soldiers,
the tree line a shadow bringing the scent
of urine of those impatient for the sinks, the sinks
Â The night becomes fuller then,
swelling as to burst like ripened corpses,
till a sweetness splits it and streams out cleanly
in piercing virtue, a sound of unfolding trinities
tracking the stages of man from freshness on
to the final ebbs, so stately and fine
though everywhere around a degradation.
The men turn to the notes with silvered eyes.
The sentinel faces about, presents his arms
to death, who brings one flower for them all.
“Courtesy of Stand Magazine, Leeds University”