Stephen Cushman
After Louisiana

Joseph Meredith
The Good Grey Poet

W. S. Di Piero
Walt, the Wounded


After Louisiana

What I now write I do not offer as any thing like a history of the important events of the time, but rather as my memory of them, the effect they had on me personally, and to what extent they influenced my personal conduct. (Memoirs of General William T. Sherman)

You mean to tell me that after all the pine
and Spanish moss wisping from baldcypress,
after the cattle egrets and common egrets
and snowy egrets from swamps and rivers
and bayous through spicy breezes soaked
with scented blossoms headier than anything
a lady in summer décolletage might dab
behind her ears or hidden knees or
along her low neckline to cool the space
around her as she leans over, laughing, after
the wine and accents like vallies
next to flat Ohio vowels, leans over
to touch a blue sleeve with just enough
showing to make the local Tabasco
taste tepid and magnolia flowers
no match for her neck or shoulders
lighting the vacancy left by a family
waiting in another state, you mean to tell me
that even the scourge, the hun, the cruel barbarian,
even Satan himself could waste that landscape
without pools of remorse congealing inside him?

Stephen Cushman


The Good Grey Poet

I have stood in the snug little house
on Mickle Street on the anniversary of your death
while a woman read from your autopsy report,
heard her list the contents of your stomach
and bowels on that last day, testify
to the brown solidity of your liver,
hear witness, as though to shame the defamers,
to the cleanliness of your life.

I have sat at your tomb in the hillside
in the shadow of the Catholic hospital
when the breeze scattered sunlight
out across the Cooper and traffic
on Haddon Avenue was only a distant droning
as of bees, and played you slow airs on a whistle—
"Parting Glass" and "Journey's End"—
to cheer you of a summer's day.

I have flown north on the BQE at seventy,
on a winter Sunday morning, with wind
grating up whitecaps on the East River
like snowdrops on a grey January lawn, high
above the Brooklyn docks you knew,
on my way to the north shore of the island
where you early heard the musical shuttle
of the mockingbird's throat weave song
amid the mallow and sea oats.

I have huffed in the mortal stink of that river
where, crossing on the ferry to Manhattan,
you spoke out across the centuries to me
and the sons of my grandson's sons
and the black bearded Hassidim of Brownsville alike
before my father's father was formed of the dust.

The atoms of your body are always found,
and your loving soul, you who were young once,
engorged with life, as I was young,
you who grew old in pain and died,
as I will die. I find you daily
under my bootsoles in the Camden lots,
among scraps of insulated wire,
the glinting mica, the sandy mud,
the indomitable weeds,
find you in the laughter of working men
that explodes like cannon fire from the city bars,
in the clean and wholesome smiles of women,
in the cryings of infants, the palsies of old men,
and in the white gulls that wheel at dawn
above the wide and sun-shocked Delaware.

Joseph Meredith


Walt, the Wounded

The whole world was there, plucking their linen,
half-bald, mumbling, sucking on their moustache tips.
Broadway was still in business and they asked no favors.

All the cracked ribs of Fredericksburg,
the boys who held their tongues at Chancellorsville,
as the bandages, mule shit, skin and shot

overran the Rappahannock's banks
and poured it in our mouths
that summer.

He sat up half the night reading to the Army of the Potomac
poems about trooping goats and crazy fathers
chewing grass in the wilderness.

It's me that saved his life, dear mother,
he had dysentery, bronchitis, and something else
the doctors couldn't properly diagnose.
He's no different than the others.
I bring them letter-paper,
envelopes, oranges, tobacco, jellies,
arrowroot, gingersnaps, and shinplasters.
Last night I was lucky enough
to have ice cream for them all
and they love me each and every one.

The early teachers stretched on canvas cots
with their bad grammar, backs smeared by caissons,
a heap of arms and legs junked beneath a tree

about a load for a one-horse cart. At night,
campfires peaked by shebangs in the bush.
He'd find the stagedrivers laid up there—

Broadway Joe, George Storms, Pop Rice, Handy Fish,
Old Elephant and his brother Young Elephant (who came later),
Yellow Joe, Julep Tarn, Tick Finn, and Patsy Dee—

the pinched khaki drifting down the gangways,
homecomers looking for those not waiting there,
bamboo lays and punji sticks alive in their dreams.

A small fire still burns in the nursery.
Rice and molasses simmer on the stove.
Children will have to learn to ask for less,

less from the elephant dawn that chilled
across the heights where Lee held his ground.
The sky curled its wrath about the land

and they brought America's fire home.

Fire on our hands, ashes at Bull Run, buckets from Pleiku
while he stood watching on the shore, pulling his beard.

America seems to me now, though only
in her youth, but brought already here,
feeble, bandaged, and bloody in hospital.

Our roughed-up beauties dead or dying,
he sang them goodnight with his hands in his pockets
who would have kissed them and warmed their flesh forever.

When Oscar F. Wilbur asked if he enjoyed religion:
Perhaps not, my dear, in the way you mean,
and yet may-be it is the same thing.

To worship the fire in the nursery, fire in the hills
and in the mouths of those I love. I do know why
our wounded die.     I do know.     I know.

W. S. Di Piero