During my lifetime, when our pols have sent our soldiers far away to fight, they always say it’s for freedom. For defense. Soldiers say they fight for each other. For the guy who always shares the homebaked brownies from the mail. For those plunked into planes, flown 10 time zones from home. To places with pasts and grievances and enemies of enemies that the pols can't be bothered to learn about (Too much nuance). Places our pols said would be a “cakewalk” to liberate. (Never ever say invade!) Where we’d be greeted with flowers. (1000 IEDs blossomed on the roads. Close enough!) Within a year, our rationale collapses into staying at war because we went to war. If we left, we’d lose face because we started losing that cakewalk the instant boots hit the ground, and America never loses (Except for all those other times). Mind you, no worries about the face losing that’s happening when a grenade blows off a soldier’s face...skull...life. (Never ever think of that. They’re volunteers; it’s okay.) Focus instead on the delicate blushes of a pol whose face would feel discomfited to hear that anyone thought his decision to start the war was, well, blameworthy. (The horrors of war!) So soldiers, the original reality-based community, fight for each other. Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well. Sometimes our soldiers have fought to defend our country. As Ukrainians do now. Real bombs fell on Hawaii, launched by the Imperial Japanese army. No toy Gulf of Tonkin incident that. GIs still fought for their buddies, but when you’re fighting folks who attacked your own land and everyone else’s, you’ve got more in your heart than just your buddies. Our messiest war was the one we fought with ourselves. Rich man’s war (wanted to keep enslaving people); poor man’s fight (who likes strangers with guns coming around? Back at ya.). For the North, it was 50 plus years of hearing a lot of Southern huffy puffery about what gentlemen they were. So honorable. So unlike money-grubbing Yanks. Best thing about a gentleman: he can make promises like pie crust (It's an honor thing). Faux concessions: no slavery north of here or west of there. Er, west of here. No, there. Bloody Kansas! I meant north and west of here. At some point, patience snaps. At some point, you can see these folks are looking to take over everywhere. To befoul your business with their foul business. No evidence most Union soldiers cared about the enslaved, and “union” is a mighty abstract abstraction to walk into a slaughtering field for. But Lincoln managed to make the fight about something more real, more true than saving face. His “union” was you and yours and ours and even theirs, For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake. Chimpanzees kill each other in battle. It’s not alien to our nature. But we have better tools than our ape forebears. We can kill so many of our own kind, so much faster than our chimp psyches can bear. Today, we see the Civil War in still, stiff black-and-white. Red washes out to gray; navy blue to charcoal. Soldiers are statues sitting on horses. Too lifeless to deflect defecating pigeons. But once, in our land arose the stench, the screams, the bleeding red, the raging repeating rifles, the inescapable ooze where fly-covered flesh and soil and rain and living limbs churned through its death-grip. What a piece of work is man. Whitman was no soldier, but he was a battlefield nurse. He knew horror. What could scour a war-grimed mind clean? Do graveyards of rotting cut flowers bring spring to a soul overfull of suffering? Not enough, but all a god can give. Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul, There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.
The April 3 prompt is to use a Spanish form called a “glosa” – literally a poem that glosses, or explains, or in some way responds to another poem. Take a quatrain from a poem you like, and then write a four-stanza poem that explains or responds to each line of the quatrain, with each of the quatrain’s four lines forming the last line of each stanza.
Author’s notes: As I wrote, I realized the last two lines depend on each other for meaning, so I only wrote 3 stanzas.
I added a line from Hamlet because I couldn’t get it out of my head.
The image is a photo of a log cabin built by one of my ancestors shortly after the end of the Civil War. I didn’t take it and I don’t know who did.