The central obsession of our federal estate
is the bloody conflict that divided it.
Thirteen decades later its veterans’ reunions
and widows’ pensions are no more,
but the dead still rest uneasy
in their ordered rows.
Far enough north,
the grizzled Yankee in his rocky field
knows that righteousness has triumphed.
Far enough south,
every swamp-dwelling moss-draped cracker
knows his cause was just, and,
come the jubilee, will rise again.
But here in the middle, in the border states,
things are not so clear.
In Virginia we know that our cause was not just,
though our soldiers were brave
and our homes worth defending.
Across the river a Marylander,
though bound to a troubled Union,
whistles Dixie and glances over his shoulder.
How can we cut this canker from our collective soul?
How can one forget? Millennia hence,
when English is just the language of the scholiasts
or the key to ancient software, Gettysburg
will mean no more than Thermopylæ does to us,
and Jackson’s tactics, like Hannibal’s,
will be studied by commanders
training for the galactic wars.
Then Appomattox will no longer appear on any map,
with Bull Run just a vague rumor,
a place somewhere off to the east
of the Blue Ridge Islands.
May 2, 1996
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