Convalescence by Alan Steele


In a Petersburg Nursing Home

Was back the summer of sixty four—‘course

That’s eighteen, not nineteen, you understand?

—We lay in a muddy Deep Bottom trench,

On top of hard clods, rocks piercing tender,

Pale, rail think sides, ducked low for cover as

Black powder and sulfur burned inside our

Noses. Musk, mildew, damp and dank mingled with

Stink of charred flesh—danced…stabbed your tongue, clawing

Around the haze and the corn mash amid

Grey, bloodshot eyes.

As tired as I feel now,

As horrid and strong the smell of death and

Ammonia here, on faded tile, cold white;

So much worse then. Sweat drained out below a

Dark wool and cotton, turning loyalty

And elder strength, now crimson sleep and night.

While your granddaddy and his brothers, their

Uncles and neighbors and all their lost kin

Transformed themselves, over and again ‘side

Cannon treads, smoke hid world from infant

Sight. Slavery? Ha! So much more…then, still,

Less, as young and old alike lay side by side.

You know, always and still a Dutch Oven

‘Gainst its lid recalls barefoot coffee, some

Bean hole troop, days of sibling rivalry:

A saber clanging ‘gainst saddle buckles,

Cold iron and hardwood worn slick as ice.

Victory gets to be more question than

Ever were answer, or bodies, be had.