Old slave and planter graves a flight apart
For thrushes eating seeds of grass and yew,
The unmarked plots and plots with dates and names
Too weatherworn to trace and know in stone,
Bones sinking toward a spring no well can reach,
600,000 dead for whom the War
Has long since ended and will never end,
The blue and gray at peace beneath the green,
The Deep South vultures riding updrafts north,
Smelling the human meat two states away—
Cold Harbor in the rank and columned air—
Flocking to open feasts of bowel and blood,
Blacks joining their red cousins, circling high,
Then swooping and alighting, plucking eyes
From bloated bodies hissing in their gore,
Confederate and Federal the same,
Cain slaying Abel, Abel slaying Cain,
The first fruits and the last of staff and scythe,
Of muskets and repeaters, bayonets,
The wounded paralyzed between the lines,
Crows tugging at their guts as they looked down,
The cries for “Mother!” heard and yet unheard,
Prophetic epitaphs in diaries
Of the dead: “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.”
Pride and compassion clashing through a truce,
The colors of both armies on the ground,
The Stars and Stripes beside the Southern Cross,
The standard-bearers leading, first picked off,
And somewhere in a clearing hidden still
From this new restless unaccustomed mind
That cannot now remember or forget,
Among a people neither lost nor found,
Each year the older birds, the winter scouts,
Come back to claim familiar nesting sites
Beside the sisters—beans and squash and corn—
The planted standards neither flown nor furled
But steadfast in the time of egg and seed,
Gourd poles, for the purple martins, hung with gourds.

David Middleton

Until his retirement in June of 2010, David Middleton served for 33 years as Professor of English at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. In April 2006 Middleton won The Allen Tate Award for best verse published in The Sewanee Review for 2005. In November 2006 Middleton won the State of Louisiana Governor’s Award for Outstanding Professional Artist for 2006. Middleton’s books of verse include The Burning Fields (LSU Press, 1991), As Far as Light Remains (The Cummington Press [Harry Duncan], 1993), Beyond the Chandeleurs (LSU Press, 1999), and The Habitual Peacefulness of Gruchy: Poems After Pictures by Jean-François Millet (LSU Press, 2005). Middleton’s newest collection, The Fiddler of Driskill Hill: Poems (poems of Louisiana North and South) was published by LSU Press in the fall of 2013.

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