Thirty years

He winced as he stepped from the carriage,
pain shooting through his leg.
His leg.
Always his leg.
After thirty years, his leg.
A leg, he knew, that could have been lost
on that long ago, hellish April day.

He took the cane the young man offered,
nodding his thanks.
Silently he started across the lane into the woods.
“Do you know …?”
Before the young man could finish,
he cut him short with a growl:
“I remember.”
And to himself, he softly said:
“I will always remember.”

Moving with surprising quickness,
he left the young man behind and
descended toward the creek.
He stumbled once,
caught his balance with the cane,
stopped to rub his thigh,
and then continued.

At the creek he paused and
looked carefully around.
The young man came up beside him.
Their eyes met briefly;
he shook his head and started forward.
Water splashed his pants
as the rocks shifted slightly
beneath his weight.

Across, he climbed the gentle rise.
Roots tugged at his feet,
briars clawed at his clothes —
once tearing his hand.

Only when he crested the rise
did he slow his pace.
The young man came to his side and asked,
“Are you sure?”
“I remember,” he said.
And as he started to walk again, he softly said,
“I will always remember.”

On through the woods he walked,
the young man sometimes at his side,
sometimes falling behind.

When he saw the crosses,
simple, wooden crosses
that marked a slight depression in the ground,
he stopped. “This is the place?” the young man said.
“Stay here,” he ordered and he stepped
to the depression’s side.

He noticed the blood on his hand
as he reached into his jacket.
For several moments, he stared at the
thin trickles that made a spider-web pattern.
He wiped the blood on his pants,
made sure his hand was clean, and took
a silver flask from his inner pocket.

“I’m back.”
He spoke to the air
to the ground
to the ghosts of those who lay
in the common grave before him.
“Thirty years gone. But I am back.”

He breathed deeply, then spoke again.
“I remember.”
Looking down, he repeated,
“I will always remember.”

He removed the flask top and
gestured toward the depression.
“I remember. I will always remember.”

Raising the flask to his lips,he leaned back his head
and drank deeply.
Then carefully, reverently, slowly
he poured the contents on the ground before him.

“For you.
My comrades. My friends. My brothers.
Thirty years.
And still I remember.
I will always remember.”

A solitary tear escaped
from the moisture pooled in his eyes,
coming to rest in his snarled, gray beard.
He stood in silence for ten brief, eternal seconds.

Then, stopping the flask, he turned
to begin his journey back to the carriage.
He winced as the motion sent
pain shooting through his leg.
Always the leg.
After thirty years, the leg.

5 August 2013
Corinth, Mississippi
Inspired by a visit to
a Confederate Burial Trench
at Shiloh National Military Park.

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2 Comments

Filed under National Park, Travel

2 responses to “Thirty years

  1. Dean Myers

    Mark: Very moving. Thank you.
    Dean

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