|Andrew and Rachel Jackson's tomb at the Hermitage|
THE CONFEDERATE DEAD
The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee
The Confederate dead lie in neatly curving rows
ranged around an ancient maple:
5th Tennessee Volunteers, 22nd Tennessee Volunteers,
and so on, and so on,
all those old men, not battle-dead but dead
after decades of reunions and maybe regrets,
of periodically pulling out the old uniform, grown
frayed, faded, too tight or too loose across the belly.
In the farthest outside row, one "loyal servant" is
relegated to the margin but still part of the group.
It is all so tender, so genteel. The soft spring grass,
the tiny damp membranous leaves uncurling
on the thick old tree
that stands like a circuit-riding preacher
over his rapt and captive congregation.
So many years they have lain there
under that perfect sod,
listening to wind in the branches,
the murmurs of the visiting living
walking and talking softly above them.
So many years of shifting in their graves,
making room for the maple roots
spreading among them,
stretching out beside them like lovers,
twining among their bones.
That old tree anchors the ranks of loyal soldiers
laid there with tenderness and tears,
like the swords and pistols they kept clean and shining,
laid away carefully and brought out from time to time
to be shown to a child or wept over in solitude,
polished with aching papery fingers.
And in the farthest row that loyal servant,
who followed one of those old soldiers
into battle and back out again,
now equally embraced by earth and roots
and indistinguishable from the rest.
- Victoria Stefani