They Were Soldiers

by Paul Hooker

They were soldiers.
Some were sons of farmers, some of planters.
Some held slaves. Some could barely hold a job.
Some believed the Cause. Some had no cause to believe
in anything but themselves, and barely that.
As soon as shots were fired in anger
some signed up because they sought adventure.
But some waited in the woods, moving quietly
so as not to draw attention from the Home Guard.
They were dragged from sleep, cuffed and chained
like the slaves they would too soon fight to keep.
Handed uniform and gun, one and all were told
they were just soldiers, nothing more.

They were bodies.
Some were whole, some were missing parts,
arms or eyes or frostbit toes or fingers.
Some were missing altogether, slipped away
in morning mist to havens in the hills of home
as soon as sergeants called the daily roll.
Those that stayed were loyal not to cause
or country, not to way of life, but to each other.
They used their bodies to shield a brother
from canister and shell, minié ball and rifled shot.
It was the only thing that mattered. It was love
in the field of blood and bone. And when it was done
they were just bodies, nothing more.

They are statues.
Some are effigies of generals, some of grunts.
Their metal gaze seems measured to some distant vision
dead in fields of war and somehow late revived.
We see it for them, God help us; and watch it grow
wherever hearts are grieved and minds are lost
in angry tales of sadness only demons tell.
Around their steeds swirls an evil tide and, rising,
rage is flowing like Hell’s river at their feet.
Their pedestals are useless dams for reservoirs
of darkness where fools bend the knee to drink.
These iron angels sing no glorias. Take them down.
They are just statues. Nothing more.