June goes gaudy with bad boutonnieres— flamingo mimosas, the giant magnolia's bowl of petals. Let us consider the man not welcome at the wedding. What's the etiquette for the bad father? What's the right flower for the ignored- with-good-reason, the uninvited? A hydrangea, head wide as a cabbage; or the bull
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at The Funeral for 13,000; Andersonville
Historic Site, September 19, 2015
Every prayer once prayed here is still in the air,
but there is also that old wine of astonishment, caught
in the throat. So who are we to have gathered here,
even in praise, even humbled by the blood
of our inheritance? Could we ever be too sure
what history is good for? History is what we are—
creatures made of time and story—the clay of the Bible,
fired and shaped into brittle jars that hold our days.
And today, we are in our element, out in these fields
of wounding stillness at the end of summer,
where we stroll, as freely as we choose, down clean lanes
of grass and stone. We can take our time
and try to understand what we will never understand.
But one measure of our days has commanded us
to fall in, and to stand at attention, to form up
where the stockade swarmed and groaned, a septic mud
the soldiers prayed to God for the end of. The dusk
and the sunrise are still inside us,
and the years go on, and we touch them one by one,
and today, they are the strange beads of a prison rosary,
a ruined bootlace tied in knots. Let us go on, then,
and say Amen to the weapons at our feet, blades of grass,
the beautiful uncut hair of graves. Amen to the night
that takes up its position, Amen to the sun
that advances through the risen dust, with or without us,
whatever we believe. Everywhere, now, in this nation
of old sorrows and new—even trembling with the past,
here at Andersonville—we are suffering
from what we have forgotten. Tell us again, if you can,
how to praise, and how to grieve, and how to witness.
Give us this day, forgive us our trespasses....
The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,
but time and chance happen to them all.......
Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.
Judson Mitcham is the author of A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New (University of Georgia Press, 2007), Sabbath Creek (University of Georgia Press, 2004), This April Day (Anhinga Press, 2003), and Somewhere in Ecclesiastes (University of Missouri Press, 1991). He is the recipient of fellowships from the Georgia Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He lives in Georgia.