Beyond the C & O Canal

Acres and acres
of open ground
on which to run
across where
ghosts follow me
to unheard
bugle calls.

The back and forth
of an old battle
on the north side
of Sharpsburg.
The park roads
thick enough
with tourists
I know the burger stand
will do good
business today.

And think of
all the pointed steel
once gleaming
in the sun
when the morning mist broke
with the distant flashes
of Stuart’s guns
on Nicodemus Heights.

But now that I reach
the Middlekauf farm
I turn back
and lope toward
home and the historic quiet
of Shepherdstown.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Off Tour South of Sharpsburg

I spoke. My words
stumbled on the uneven ground.

They thudded into the grassy dirt
dinged their smooth lines and broke a few serifs.

Just below the surface
a lost and forgotten bronze plaque slept.

Carolina wrens broadcast its discovery.
Curiosity instituted mission creep.

My walk stalled.
I cleared sleep from the plaque’s I’s.

Most of the letters were gone.
My fallen words began to refill the bronze surface.

But I did not recognize speaking them.
So they were now unknown to me.

They noted a bitter end.
They named a stranger from far away.

To the north stood the inverted cannon
where Isaac Peace Rodman fell.

Though I was closer to Lawrence O’Brien Branch
and where his brigade fought.

When I reread the plaque
a drawl grabbed my tongue and mouth.

Thirty-seven is a prime number
which I always believed brought luck.

But not that long ago September
for the Gaston Blues.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

The Gaston Blues were company H of the 37th North Carolina Infantry, part of Lawrence O’Brien Branch’s brigade.

The town of Sharpsburg, MD is surrounded on three sides by the Antietam National Battlefield. I have spent over 100 days exploring that battlefield.

Autumn Stroll

Paul and I walked
Antietam’s sunken road
away from
the observation tower
with me as guide
telling him about John Gordon’s
Alabama troops’ courage
and how the soil
turned a reddish brown.

A bus pulled into
the parking area
and released
fifty Chinese students
to read signs
and view the plowed fields
and split-rail fences.

Paul wondered aloud
what this place
meant to them
and how the fight
to free the slaves
and preserve the Union
reflected in China’s history.

We turned down
the road to the Roulette Farm
and a few students followed
mistaking my
recently re-read
The Gleam of Bayonets history
for the lecture
of an official battlefield guide.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Antietam was a battle in the American Civil war. Link to the National Park Service webpage about the battle.

She Lies Absent

Paul triangulates
the girl of his dreams
to be in the shadow
of a witness sycamore
on the opposite side
of a creek run red.

She wears a dress
the color of turned sycamore leaves
and holds purple prairie aster
that competes
with the last of the dandelions
for the bees’ attention.

He must cross a bridge
made of aged white stone
against a rush of ghosts
groaning and wailing
amid the thunderous canon
and volleys hurled against them.

Upon seeing the color bearer drop
and old glory fall
the woman raises her arm to her brow,
in the manner of Victorian women,
slumps to the ground,
and disappears beneath the leaves.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Fields Of Antietam

A road runs through the fields of Antietam.
The living have not forgotten the dead.
The dead are part of the land now.
Part of the corn in the fields.
Part of the scrub and woodlots.

I walk the road where Rufus Dawes once walked.
I walk to a fence that lines the road.
This modern fence is a recreation of the fence
Rufus Dawes once stood at.
I look at the fence on the other side of the narrow road.
Rufus Dawes once looked in this direction too.
His vision was blocked by a black powder haze.
Hundreds of men fired muskets at each other
across the fourteen feet that separated the two fences.
The longest twenty minutes a man ever endured.

I walk the road through the fields of Antietam.
The white painted Dunker Church is upon my right.
It is now part of the National Military Park.
It is not used for the worship of any God.

People come to visit the ground by the Dunker Church.
They tell me the dead of Antietam made it holy.
But ground is holy for being ground.
Our dead do not make it more or less holy
than the falling leaves from the witness oaks and sycamores.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Rufus Dawes, at the time of Antietam, was the Lt. Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment which belonged to the famed Iron Brigade of the West (sometimes called the Black Hat Brigade due to their distinctive black Hardee style hats).

After the war, Dawes visited all the battlefields he fought upon, but could not find it in him to return to Antietam due to the memories of the fierceness of the close proximity fighting.

Location Sonnet

I may claim I moved off the reservation when I reached my majority, if you consider a ninety-eight percent republican Chicago suburb a reservation.

During my university semester in Germany, the locals refused to let me speak Auf Deutsch, so they might practice their English.

During that same semester, museum personnel misread my misprinted university ID card as Oxford instead of Rockford—I have dropped my R’s ever since, seeking to duplicate the benefits of misperception.

On our flight back to the U. S., a blizzard blanketed the midwest and east coast, so we were put in a holding pattern over the Atlantic. The plane got so small by the eighteenth hour, a hamster would not fit in that metallic tube.

I purchased my first cellphone when I lived outside Port Angeles, Washington. I walked to the top of the north hill overlooking the ocean to receive a signal.

When I lived in Taos, New Mexico there was no such thing as over-night delivery via Fed Ex or UPS or USPS. The family lawyers back in Chicago, despite their vast education and experience, could not fathom this.

I spent most of my one year living in Frederick, Maryland walking the Antietam battlefield. I cannot explain why I did not move to Sharpsburg, Maryland to shorten the commute.

Someday, in an effort to lose most of my sense of privilege, I think I should live in a location where I am the only white person for a hundred miles in all directions. Does such a place exist anymore?

Technically, as a white person, I am a minority in Albuquerque and in New Mexico as a whole. I never once felt minor.

Every summer day when the Albuquerque sunset paints the Sandia Mountains the watermelon color pattern that gave the mountains their Spanish name, I wonder why Nature fails to behave PC toward our African American citizens.

Albuquerque was named after Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 10th Duke of Alburquerque. I like to believe they dropped the first R for my benefit.

Albuquerque is nicknamed the Duke City. The Duke never visited.

In Albuquerque you learn the lovesick sound of roadrunners calling for a mate. At your most lonely, you never sounded that bad off, even with six pints of beer spilling your desperation on someone sitting next to you at the bar.

Twelve years in Albuquerque with its many Indian casinos on the city outskirts and I have never visited one to place a single wager. My biggest payoff on my Albuquerque bet was meeting Dianne.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

POST SCRIPT

Happy Independence Day (US) to you all. I trust you have lined up a joyous way of celebrating the 4th with plenty of friends of family no matter how much star spangled fireworks and festivities are in your day.

Sherman Alexie broadened my definition of a sonnet. I recommend reading his books whether poetry or novels.

My old (pre-Dianne) habit was to move every 1 to 4 years (usually 3 years) to a new location to explore the geography, history and culture. I am convinced the wanderlust had roots in tragedy with both searching and avoiding being part of the trauma process. Along the way I met a lot of really fantastic people, walked a lot of miles of trails, bicycled over 16,000 road miles, and learned I cannot adjust myself to fit in all cultures in the USA.

My tally is 9 states I have lived in. My favorite state is being in love with Dianne. New Mexico for all its poor ratings (48th, 49th or 50th in many government state rankings, such as education), is a beautiful place to live in with a great diversity of people. The only place I met a greater diversity was Washington D.C., especially on the National Mall with its tourists and locals and foreign & domestic politicians.

Love & Light

Kenneth

After Handling

The collection in my hand
is five objects, four dented, malformed
from impacts, white with oxidation.

The pristine one is conical, white lead,
three grooves from Minié’s design,
fifty-eight caliber, probably dropped
while loading during a fire fight,
purchased from a curiosity shop
near Hagerstown, Maryland.

Three of the dented ones are flattened,
probably hit trees, stuck, maybe in the West Wood,
since it is not too far away. Or one
plunked off the stones of Burnside’s Bridge
and into the muddy bank of Antietam Creek.

The last… The last pinches a sliver of bone,
Some poor fellow who suffered a surgeon of the day—
at a field hospital, if he was lucky,
barnstable or outdoors if he wasn’t.
Maybe he was tended by Clara Barton.
Maybe she tipped a canteen for him to drink.

This collection in my hand
has not helped me figure myself out,
has not helped me grow into a man
or better fight the social injustices of our time.

This collection in my hand
allows me to hold history up close,
learn some lessons from others’ sweat and blood.
Teaches me to wash my hands thoroughly after handling
so the lead doesn’t poison me.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

POSTSCRIPT

I spent a year of my life living in Frederick, Maryland so I could be closer to civil war sites to indulge my history passion for that era. The battle of Antietam has always fascinated me, so I spent 107 days of my year walking the battlefield, bicycling the battlefield, reproducing the marches of units from their morning starting point out to where they fought.

I did purchase five lead Minié balls from a local shop that sold civil war curiosities. The Minié ball was conical in shape. The back is hollowed a bit so the explosion of the gunpowder upon firing expand the back end of the cone to engage the rifling of the barrel. This allowed bullets to travel 1000-2000 yards after 100-200 of smooth bore muskets that could fire a maximum range of 300 yards. The thing was, most soldiers were only accurate out to about 125 yards and most civil war battles (the firing part) took place at the ranges of 150 yards or closer. When I say accurate, it is subjective. Civil War author Paddy Griffith calculated that approximately 1 out of 150 fired bullets hit someone. This does not take into account how many men were hit multiple times.

note: When lead oxidizes it turns white instead of remaining the bluish-gray the metal is normally.

There is something inspiring to me to visit historical places. Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the civil war battlefields, the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, the Tuskegee institute, Sequoia’s Oklahoma cabin, any famous person’s home preserved by the national park system or state historical societies, and so on. Because I am from Illinois (the land of Lincoln) anything having to do with Abraham Lincoln fascinates me. I have been to Springfield, IL where he lived as an adult with all the tourism and history built around Lincoln. I plant to go to his childhood home in Kentucky and his boyhood home in Indiana.

I hope you have the time and wherewithal to visit historical sites as you proceed through your life. Then again, if your heartfelt interests take you in a different direction, great. You know what is important to you.

Love & Light

Kenneth