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Visit to Antietam

Charles Cingolani

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Visit to Antietam

by Charles L. Cingolani


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.


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.


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


Edited by Charles Cingolani
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