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About this Poem 

This poem was commissioned for We the Poets, a collaborative project with the National Archives and the Academy of American Poets to celebrate American Archives Month in October 2014. To read more about the project and to view related photographs and documents from the National Archives, visit the Prologue: Pieces of History blog.

Three Mathew Brady Photographs

1. Confederate Dead behind a Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, Virginia

Where the glass negative broke:
A silky, liquid black,
Like spilled scrivener’s ink,
Pools in the print’s margin.

                        : :

Mouth gone slack, eyes upward,
            Face glazed with blood, the man—
Lifeless, slumped, and tangled
            In a tarp—looks for God.

                        : :

Two leafless trees hold up
            A scratched sky’s leaden weight.
Autumn? Winter? No wind
            To sway the upright trees.

                        : :

Such a long exposure
To affix the fallen,
(Staged or happened upon,)
Abandoned to this ditch.

 

2. Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia

It is a slow process:
                               fallen and standing trees,
Propped, bent, a clutter of intersections—

All moss- and lichen-ridden,
                                             woodpecker pecked,
Bored by grubs, antler-scraped, bark rubbed free—

Hard to tell from the decay
                                           the living from the dead,
The dead from the almost dead—

A tree—
               horizontal across the creek,
Uprooted when a flash flood cut the cut-bank—

Still leaves, blossoms, bears fruit.
                                                    Without a buttress,
A long dead sycamore remains upright.

 

3. Burying the Confederate Dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia

Jesus said, Let the dead bury the dead.

Two caskets and five or six canvas-
Covered bodies wait beside a trench
Three black men have spent all day digging.

Given their druthers, they’d obey scripture.                       

Copyright © 2014 by Eric Pankey. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2014 by Eric Pankey. Used with permission of the author.

Eric Pankey

Eric Pankey

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Eric Pankey's first collection For the New Year won the 1984 Walt Whitman Award

by this poet

poem

Beyond the traceries of the auroras,
The fires of tattered sea foam,
The ghost-terrain of submerged icebergs;
Beyond a cinder dome's black sands, 
Beyond peninsula and archipelago,
Archipelago and far-flung islands,
You have made of exile a homeland,
Voyager, and of that
poem
An arctic, oblique light—
Grave, earthward—
Roughs in a snowfield's scoured basin,

A curved pine-flecked horizon,
As if onto a province
The door of an Advent calendar

Opened—parenthetical
Whispered as an aside,
Tallies and marginalia 

Erased, yet readable still
In the sleet-lacquered gullies
And scored rock
poem
One does not turn to the rose for shade, nor the charred song of the 
      redwing for solace.
This past I patch with words is a flaw in the silvering, 
                                                         memory seen 
        through to.
There I find the shallow autumn waters, the three stolen pears,
The

collected in

collection
To celebrate American Archives Month in October we collaborated with t...