Those fellas in blue came marching
from out of the west, two by two,
they camped out at the edge of the forest,
made fires and played songs
while their sentries paced through the night
around my freshly plowed fields.
They looked hard, but they saw nothing:
their enemies, dressed in grey, struck at dawn,
sweeping down the hill behind my curing shed,
shooting and screaming as they ran into the camp,
the blue shirts scrambling to grab their boots,
dead before they’d gotten the laces unknotted.
It was quite the rout that day, right here,
the grey boys chased the surviving blue shirts
back into the west from whence they came.
I figured they’d be back eventually,
to bury the dead, to pillage the camp,
to do whatever else victorious soldiers did.
But that was two weeks ago Tuesday,
and I’m still alone here in my fields, digging,
undertaker to a fallen company of invaders,
folks I didn’t know from places I’ve never seen.
I didn’t kill ’em, no sir, but I’ll bury ’em,
seems to me like the right thing to do.
I wonder, as I’m shoveling, what the writers
will say about this battle, years from now.
Will they know this place is called Branxton Hollow?
And that my great grandfather, he settled it?
Will they know that I’d have been planting tobacco
had I not had to become a gravedigger instead?
I think I’ll make me a wooden sign some day,
like the ones I see out on the turnpike road,
“On this spot, once, there was quite the battle,
some folks lived and ran, and some folks died and stayed,
’cause someone made them do it, from very far away.”
And I guess, really, that’s all I’d have to say.
(Copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith)