The shaman tells how the mountain became
When two forces met, To his boys
Who sit in a clearing under young Georgia
There is much to learn. The youths are perfect today.
They listen with their eyes and hear the
That tells them the difference between the sting
And the spiritsí absence. He is proud of
Smiles in their direction, continues his story:
Once the mountain was brown like our mothers.
She fed the food we eat: the nut, berry, juniper sprig,
Ginseng for sickness, blackberry for the
deer we hunt,
Ashes from her children. Remember the red mountain.
All that dies on her lives again as
you have seen,
Except the men who saw her and turned their heads
And hands to hunt one another in that world
Where cold souls go and our motherís blood and bones are
Used as fodder for the cattle they bring.
This is not our world.
This is a place for battle, villains and heroes.
An army camps before a distant mountain
only long enough to leave an armiesí remains.
Dead horses, dead men, the women in their
a broken drum, a stockade with prison hospital.
Then a larger clearing surrounding
a stand of newly
dead pine, stripped and sharpened with iron , to be
the blind guard who keeps men out and in.
Here is the fire-smell and ant herds digging at both ends.
Their leader, Colonel Wirtz, might
have been an accountant
because the size of the mountain didnít impress him.
He was from the north where buildings had
already begun to climb
with steel, away from earth and hearth , into the sky.
Hell is rationed by ounces not degrees in
the late 1860ís
In a long summer at Andersonville, the touch of Malaria reached
Kelvin heights. Thousands died without amnesty
And for the lack of more than 4 ounces of meat a day,
And cornbread that didnít worm its way through
No milk, no Geneva convention. Whiskey for amputees only,
Whose fallen limbs would never grow back
but lay in stacks
For burning, not to cook or warm the meat, but destroy it.
The doctor knew he had become a miner
Saving the head, most of the body, in physical form.
The ore that would never become whole men
Sparkled in his nightsí shivering dreams,
Where red mountains hold the stumps
of trees and their shadows
Bent on destroying him should he ever stop and think:
Take me back to the time when men were reasonable
And there was no time, only blue and gray emptiness.
On his side of the hill it was whispered
That nothing would grow or prosper.
All were starving: guards and prisoners
Fed the hate that generals take with their whisky.
From mouth to ear, action to eye, who knew
Outside the world was swallowing pine.
Men becoming more dead through the morning
Each headline trying to out-do the other with the same news.
Atrocities from both sides of rainbows, both the same.
Both agents feeling the other to blame. Stern words
Recited at tables over scrapple, maple syrup,
Or grits, gravy and biscuits. In both windows it rained
Until the proudest man cried. His children
Miners long before, still trying to reclaim salt from their eyes.
They might have said "enough" but what man
Instead, all mothers followed their faith, lost their boys and cried.
This was a time straight out of the bible,
near another red sea,
When the sickle and wheat chance to meet on the longest day.
Many prison camps pocked this division of
hills and plains
In these united states , but only Andersonville
Lived in the dell by red mountain where
Is a bloody shirt torn from the back of a boy
Who hasnít been born yet or has been born
too many times.
They are the same at death: stars flee the eyes,
His fatherís chin grows dark; motherís breath
They are the same on the table, waiting for the knife
The assistant surgeon thought. As the war
And a new one had already begun, he lost another friend.
Colonel Wirtz was hanged behind the capitol
In atonement for both sins. There wasnít much left
to hang, his slight build twisting in the steady wind.
John is an English teacher and has published historical poetry in "The
Sandhills Review." John and his wife Martha live in Punta Gorda,
Florida. He can be reached at ThreeTop@aol.com.