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Weekly Poem: ‘Antietam’

By Sandra Beasley

We all went in a yellow school bus,
on a Tuesday. We sang the whole way up.
We tried to picture the bodies stacked three deep
on either side of that zigzag fence.
We tried to picture 23,000 of anything.
It wasn’t that pretty. The dirt smelled like cats.
Nobody knew who the statues were. Where was
Stonewall Jackson? We wanted Stonewall on his horse.
The old cannons were puny. We asked about fireworks.
Our guide said that sometimes, the land still let go
of fragments from the war—a gold button, a bullet,
a tooth migrating to the surface. We searched around.
On the way back to the bus a boy tripped me and I fell—
skidding hard along the ground, gravel lodging
in the skin of my palms. I cried the whole way home.
After a week, the rocks were gone.
My mother said our bodies could digest anything,
but that’s a lie. Sometimes, at night, I feel
the battlefield moving inside of me.

 

Sandra Beasley; photo by Matthew WordenSandra Beasley is the author of “I Was the Jukebox,” winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and “Theories of Falling,” winner of the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. “Antietam” appears in “I Was the Jukebox,” published by W. W. Norton earlier this year. Other honors include inclusion in the 2010 Best American Poetry, the University of Mississippi Summer Poet in Residence position, a DCCAH Individual Artist Fellowship, the Friends of Literature Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she is working on “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life,” forthcoming from Crown. More about Sandra Beasley can be found at her website.

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