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Visit to Antietam by Charles L. Cingolani 1. Alone I arrive, walking from Frederick over the gaps, across gentle hills out onto a knoll to view this burnished landscape. Before me I see countless writhing rows of indiscernible shapes gathered in terrible rituals mid fire and smoke that darken the sun. From distant corners I hear the rhythmic thudding of cannon, and from fields astir with figures converging the eery muffled rumbling of drums. From behind, hoofing sod aloft couriers gallop past straightway into throngs to where ruffled flags slant, to men mounted, with swords drawn, about to unleash their flexing lines to collide with columns coming on. I watch them shift and align then clash head-on as distant volleys crackle in long orange ribbons where smoke is rising— after which shattered lines rejoin like healed limbs, smaller now but whole, to lunge once more into spiraling bursts of yellowy orange. Is that a cornfield on the distant plain not far from where a spire stands? I see stalks moving like men advancing and falling back in wild infernal whirling, savage yelling ripping through space. Before my eyes that field of green being reaped now by frenzied swathings turns brown, then grayish, is slashed and shredded, then ravaged in fiery geysers spewing red and orange. I see you, man in blue, your back to me— in haste your lines plunge forward like waves, cresting and curling to splash in smoky spume onto a road that cuts the fields in two— Facing you there in sunken trenches long streaks of reddish gold bursting in ordered alternation repelling your forward drive— you fall where carnage itself piling high staves off all further slaughter there. And far off to my left a long snakelike movement bloats at a bridge behind which the hills with fire erupting become hell’s crucible spurting its flow of fiery orange from ten thousand pores toward that stony arched crossing. On this side amassed, clotted masses surge and retract propelling one small bluish artery into that brimming inferno to thrust its way forward, unscathed, as if 'twere led protectedly through some slender shielding sheath. As they advance random shooting stutters, from farther distance fired. Then of a sudden, out of nowhere at my left, I observe one last yelping onslaught, one final vicious blitz. What had advanced seeks refuge now falling back to that bridge, to protecting water. As with the suddenness of their arrival, the spirited chargers quit now the field, scamper back up over their hill. Then a moaning quiet settles over the fields while night settles in. 2. From what vision am I awakening? These are but fields, hills. There a church, a bridge. I must linger here, listen to silence, hear it speak— of homage, of gratitude, of loss. Silence hovering over sacred soil, a canopy spread over rituals once performed here, a sanctuary of silence enshrining that offering, that oblation, that conciliation for a had-to-be waring of our own making. Forbid all levity here! Bar all distraction! Ban every cloaked entrepreneur! Granite, even marble disturb. There is no enactment no fitting into frames. Silence alone befits this hallowed space— . . . as does the hidden violet that blooms for you in spring, for you who left your life here that dire September seventeen eighteen hundred and sixty-two. You, unknown, unsung brothers mine from Georgia, Connecticut and Carolina. . . . as does the windhover riding on air on wingsbeats stalwart and soft holding perfectly still above the plot where you fell, a crest of valor, a living monument emblazoned on high for you valiant brothers mine from Tennessee, Maryland and Iowa. . . . as does the lark climbing aloft on eager wings as morning dawns trilling scales of gratitude to you for daring to die for convictions you held, contrary, insoluble— until that war you waged for those before you, for those who followed, gentle brothers of mine from Texas, Mississippi and Rhode Island. . . . as does that ancient tree on the slope standing yet on weary feet, the aged veteran, presenting arms, still saluting you whom it saw fall, itself to fall, last of all, gallant brothers mine from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arkansas. . . . as does the solitary girl walking with grace across the fields, her head erect, her feet treading soil moistened with the spirit soaked into it with the blood you shed. She takes strength from it to live despite loss, grief and pain. Your gift to her, dear brothers mine from Wisconsin and Alabama and Maine. . . . as does the murmuring stream that winds through these Maryland fields, the living, pulsing emblem, the watery banner unfurled, Holocaust inscribed thereon but Antietam called, our awful reminding word for the deed you rendered— the cleansing required to join us, to fuse us together, cherished brothers all from Virginia, New Jersey and Colorado. 3. As I turn now to leave mighty towers of white clouds rise mid rumblings of distant thunder off to the west beyond these silent fields. On parting the pace quickens. There is no laming. Led by knowing hand to this temple of silence, a fresh awareness of what here was wrought has been instilled, awakened. The bravery, honor, courage, the horror, pain, the dying. Knowledge such as this waxes, transforms, makes happen. Farewell, holy fields. Farewell, brothers mine whom I have found in stillness enshrining this hallowed ground. I found you alive, arisen, have heard your voices begging, clamorous, pleading that what was here begun be completed, be done. That finally we become one in our thinking, our dealings, in the living of our lives— that the struggle find end in the change required in heart and mind that make us worthy of this our home, our land. from: Source