April 16, 2013
Picnic at Perryville Battlefield

I laughed to see our battered straw hat brims cocked

at the same jaunty angle, supple as the grasses

 

they were before being woven into these dry, purposeful

shapes.  Lateral shadows circle our shoulders

 

out to the bone edge, dropping off sharp at the breast.

We sit on the porch of the Bottom House, part of

 

the moving history, partially restored by our pause

for lunch, looking across the rise at overgrown

 

boys, feet propped up on spindly rails.  Long past compass

points and causes, shoeless, endlessly hungry, they

 

understood true north too late to keep from falling deepest

south, unable to obey the vertical instinct of blue

 

jays and squirrels hidden together in evergreens.  Signs

on newly mown trails indicate many of them succumbed

 

to flames when parched October corn fields and split-

rail fences turned, first orange as pumpkin flesh, then

 

black as the mouths of jack-o’-lanterns, screaming

not from wounds, but burns.  Now the fields are white,

 

flowered with weeds that look like antimacassars attached

to stems, as though widows and mothers labored vainly

 

to protect them from man stains.  No longer young,

we know what the red rambling rose bush bound to the white-

 

boned fence suggests, but today we agree to let beauty

simply be beauty, dumbstruck, deaf to deeper significance.

 

We will not talk as we walk in the blue-grey shade

of the dead, though they bid sharp for notice underfoot

 

in stones flung up, boy-like, shattered in their flight

through earth.  Linked arm in arm, fresh from a battlefield

 

picnic, we go as girls beneath old straw hats crosshatching

our faces with sun, weaving the shadowed grasses together.                             –for C.B.

 

—Kathy Knuckles Barbour (Jefferson County)

This poem originally appeared in Raritan.

Kathy Knuckles Barbour teaches American literature and creative writing at Hanover College in southern Indiana.  Her works have appeared in Raritan, The Southeast ReviewAtlanta Review, and other magazines.

Indiana Humanities is posting a poem a day from Indiana poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.

 

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