Annual

Paul lined up all his toy soldiers.
Three hundred and seventy-two
authentically painted
fifteen millimeter miniatures
representing American Civil War soldiers
from both sides.

He lined them up against each other.
Blue against Grey and Butternut.

Here it was again. One p.m.
July third, eighteen-sixty three
and that three-quarter mile stretch
from Seminary Ridge
past the Cordon Farm
toward that copse of trees
on Cemetery Ridge
where Hancock’s cloverleafs
waited for the charge
of Pickett’s, Pettigrew’s
and Trimble’s divisions.

As dice hit the landscaped table top
they echoed cannon thunder
as the rebel ranks thinned
in advance of the Emmitsburg Road.

This time would
Anderson’s support be prompt
and Brockenbrough’s men
advance with their
old elan and dash?

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Thunder From The Crossroads

During the battle of Gettysburg
at the railroad cut
Rufus Dawes and the Sixth Wisconsin
stopped at the lip
and called down
for the Confederates to surrender
instead of firing
at these grey ducks
caught in an earthen barrel.

I said this because
I wanted you to know
that men are capable of such
clear thinking and restraint
during the maelstrom of battle
and we should set our expectations higher
for human behavior.

I believe you think
modern man incapable
of such courage through inaction
especially with studies
that count the educated
as moving farthest from the bible.

But I think it is peer pressure—
not religion—that motivates
people to Keep up with the Jones
especially in matters of power—
its acquisition and application
contrary to the ideal
of equal treatment under the law.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Part of Something Marked Out From the Rest

Sometimes my past catches up to me
and I feel my hand draw a bowstring
on the soggy field at Agincourt.

It is not that I died that day
or the men I killed
but the horses deserved better.

A moment that wicks up my attention
is the Sixth Wisconsin’s charge
of the railroad cut at Gettysburg

where a round ball slammed into my thigh
and I fell twenty yards from glory
to bleed out upon the grass.

I wish the past presented more pleasant images
like swimming in an ocean
following an octopus along the coral

or choppy white water
through a rocky chute
while paddling the canoe like crazy.

There is that evening with wig removed
I sat in candlelight to read
Gutenberg’s newly printed bible

and fell asleep
while the dogs lazed by the fire
and my beloved placed a blanket over me.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Documentary

Last night I watched
a documentary
on Gettysburg
and I was surprised
how they dumbed it down
and left out large portions
of the battlefield conflict
to focus on individuals’
experiences.

Although these accounts
were interesting
and brought a human element
to the history,
no viewer could understand
the information
and misinformation
commanders made
their decisions by
or the battle as a whole.

Then I thought
maybe that was the point.
There is no understanding war
only the monotony
that precedes the maelstrom
and the constant heave
of the knife’s edge
that separates
courage from terror.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Revisionist

I was once sealed in a plastic bag
and floated across the sea.

My unintentional goal
was the Texas-sized pacific gyre.

The solitude I sought was not there
in the crowded whirl.

You said something to me once
that started this adventure.

This running away, really,
from your wild screaming.

Arms flailing like tentacles
about the trash and recycling

and the danger of chicken salad
left out on the counter too long.

And all I could think of in reply was
that June twenty-fifth

was the one hundred and seventh anniversary
of Gettysburg’s fiftieth anniversary.

You know. The celebration
where history was rewritten for the South.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Walking In Footsteps

Follow the Iron Brigade’s march
on July first.

They got a late start.
They finished their breakfast.
Drank their coffee.

We can stop any time you want.
We may flee Gettysburg’s ghosts if you wish.

Left. Right. Left. Right.
We continue forward
along the Emmitsburg Road shoulder.

In the drainage ditch
you find a black hat.
It is the Hardee style.
The Iron Brigade wore those
and were known to their foes as the Black Hats.

You choose to try the hat on.
Hats found unexpectedly
might be portals through time
to pivotal days.

Go ahead. Put it on.
It is about the time of day
the Sixth Wisconsin
charged the railroad cut.

Wouldn’t that be something.
To form up and charge.
To follow the nation’s flag forward in righteous cause.

Yeah. You are right. We’ll turn around.
Before that sheet of flame erupts
and a leaden maelstrom
thins our ranks.

Even in imagination this might be too much.
Standing on that ground. At the right time.
Our metal tested, spattered red and riven
before the call by Rufus Dawes
for the Second Mississippi to surrender.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

I fear the title of this poem will link your brain to the song Walking in Your Footsteps by The Police on their Synchronicity album. If it had not before, it does now. So there. You have an earworm for the rest of the day.

I have walked the path mentioned in the poem. One of my habits when I visit a civil war battlefield is to study a unit, find the point where they entered the national park grounds, and walk where they walked. Advances and retreats. I do it to gain an appreciation from my feet for what those men did that day, since I am not allowed to fire a model 1861 Springfield rifle or point a saber forward and lead a charge.

Link to Wikipedia on the Railway cut.

Link to Wikipedia on the 6th Wisconsin Infantry.

Link to Hardee style hat.

If you have followed my poetry long enough, you have noted several poems that include the 6th Wisconsin and Rufus Dawes. They are a unit I have read several books about.

An adventure I would have liked to have done if I had started younger, is to walk Lewis & Clark’s footsteps on their expedition to the Pacific from St. Charles, MO to what is now Astoria, OR. My friend Mike Whitehead and I talked about doing it. It was never more than talk because of wives and families and civic/neighborhood responsibilities. It would be a great adventure. I think bicycling the Lewis & Clark historic route would be a grand adventure with a lifetime of stories from it.

When I drive across country and have no need for haste, I like to drive the rural highways and stop at every historical marker along the way. You learn such fascinating stuff about the USA. Also, you come across historical attractions that are not too far out of the way or do not impede your sense of time. You stop and learn something. Learning is what is fun about it.

As I get older and I feel my brain is nearing full, I am happy I have not lost my desire to learn. I am more picky about what I want to study and place in memory. This pickiness is a simple change of priorities as time goes by. I think it is important not to lose my sense of wonder. Nature still fills me with a sense of wonder. So I like to spend time in nature. (I like to sleep in a bed, so I do not do major excursions into nature anymore.)

Love and Light.

Kenneth

Undeciphered

In a dream where my own death
throws me limp against the boulders
of Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den,
young men grown old too soon
ignore my plight in their own desperation
to maintain a brisk fire
upon the enemy’s last known location.
The humidity holds the sulfurous smoke
eye level and nineteen out of twenty musket balls
either fly overhead or flatten
against the igneous stone
eons older than our uncompromising grudge.

As my soul escapes my body
my left foot catches between my ribs
and I cannot rise toward the heavens,
as I believe I should, fighting with God on my side
to protect my people’s rights and liberties.
My ethereal hands pry at the ribs to no effect.
I am locked in the swirling maelstrom
as charge and counter charge
overrun this ancient stone,
this firing line disintegrating
only to be replaced by another
as support comes forward
to create more work for tomorrow’s
gravediggers and undertakers.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney