Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Walk to the Run

Journal Entry: Wilderness, Virginia; May 3, 1865

When I left to join the cavalry, I had fears, because I knew nothing. Returning from war, my fear has grown, because I know too much.

Returning from war is as difficult as leaving for war. I try to return home, but everything reminds me of war. I am back on my land, but this was the field of battle; it no longer resembles the fertile farm of four years ago. The land is scarred and aches, like my own wounds ache. Just a year ago, 28,000 casualties on this ground within a mile in any direction; one battle of the hundreds of battles; every witness tree weeps from its wounds. The burnt pine woods hide shrieking skulls still waiting to be recovered. At night, I hear them wail. 

I will work to turn our warhorses to draft horses pulling the plow, but the wild-eyed stare of the cavalry charge is still in their eyes; still in my own eyes in the glass. I have avoided mirrors for some time; it shakes me to come upon my reflection.  After four years on the front, I cannot sleep without a pistol beneath the pillow.

I walk down to the Wilderness Run to listen to the sweet rippling creek song of my youth. A ancient fallen oak, split straight down the middle by lightning, provides a bench along the upper half of the S curve in the run; its torn edges remind me how I felt, split down the middle at Spotsylvania. Spring rains have flooded and receded, like the fight that flooded Virginia and receded. A far off wind in the high trees can, at times, sound like a thousand warhorses at gallop and I am at once back battling at Brandy Station, with ten thousand troopers in crazed combat. I am not yet home when every sound and sight brings me back to war. Where are the whispers that calmed me at Fredericksburg?

I move along and sit close to the edge of the run, where its S turns to shallows and it sings sweet lullabies that too soon turn to the sound of battery wagon wheels fording Antietam Creek and I am back at the red fields of Sharpsburg, with the smell of blood and black powder.

Hawk, high above the tree tops, sails in circle, effortless, shining silver in the afternoon sun; smaller circles until he barely moves at all. The stillness of his flight returns me to the hellish fire at Gettysburg with its birds above the battlefield. Nature stays constant; still I am not home.

The Wilderness Run rolls, drip-rippling over stones, white foam rising, its rhythm repeats, repeats, repeats, reflecting sun and soul, ancient runes in water; are we water; running, repeating, running from our past, and then repeating. The run repeats the sounds that I hear in it, be they violent or peaceful. I must work the sounds away from the sounds of war.

There will come a day when I stroll in the cool of the early evening to sit on that fallen tree; when the tree will be a tree and that is all it will be; the wind will just be the wind; the creek will be the creek. The sounds will be simple and sweet, and will not remind me of other times. There will only be the sound of now, the union of the land and the man. And then, I will be home.

Until that day, to find the calm; I close my eyes and repeat the lines I wrote at Fredericksburg

I am the breath,
the whisper,
of all that came before.
I am the breath,
the promise,
of all those still to come.

1 comment:

  1. This breaks my heart. It feels so real, so much what a soldier must feel when he is finally able to return to what was home.
    I will miss this soldier, his beautiful view of the ugliness in the world.


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