Killer Angels, Better Angels

Its leaves are near-ochre,
yellowed with age and changes
in weather and geography,
like the pages of memory
I un-shelf along with it each year.

I bring it out like a swimsuit
each summer since I found it
on that beach in that place from
that side which did not prevail.
Today, a page fell like a memory.

It tells a tale of the push and pull
of a time when men could be
paid for and sold, or lined up in ranks
to pay their last full measure
of devotion to a cause each held sacred.

As I run my finger down the page,
I am present in my place and time
as I am in theirs, though I smell
the aroma of a musty old book rather than
of Hell’s own sulfur and smoke.

And I am at peace reading of war and death,
vaguely secure that such a conflict
couldn’t again slash my nobly scarred nation.
Then all these men would have given
that last full measure for nothing.

It’d be our most-mortal sin to allow them
to have lived and died in vain, knowing their
new birth of freedom, and government
of the people, by the people, for the people—
all the people—did perish from the earth.

 

Rambling draft inspired by reading, breathing, feeling, listening to the pages of my old paperback copy of The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s fictional narrative of the actual men and events leading up to, within and following the days in July of 1863 we know as the Battle of Gettysburg. I find myself reading more of my Civil War books these days.I love them, but that I feel so viscerally compelled concerns me a little. 

—Joseph Hesch © 2018

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3 thoughts on “Killer Angels, Better Angels

  1. History repeating itself, as we watch in a kind of horrified awe, stunned by an unwillingness to learn from the past. It is also testament that not enough of we Americans know enough of our own history to see how we are clearly following the same path(s). Witnessing how divided our nation is at this point in time, I could very easily imagine another Civil War taking place. I sincerely hope that we are all wrong and our concerns never manifest to reality.

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  2. Wondering if all of the blood spilled in any nation’s name ever gets washed away, or is ever worth it. Thought provoking—clearly if we deny, destroy, decimate the ideals people believed they were fighting (and dying) for, we make their sacrifice meaningless. We show the emptiness of nationalistic rhetoric, too. Perhaps there are deep lessons in this historic moment about how our own hubris brought us here. I’m thinking, in particular, of American Exceptionalism, a destructive myth.

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