February 3, 1863
The wells went dry. But they did not suspect, even then, walking, to prayers, to market-swimming along in strange morning light whose quality was already changing. I kneel down and fish out the bones carefully, with slender tongs, before pouring gesso in the hardened ash. Some sculpt out of the air, but I persist in believing there are forms already present, absences which are too telling- a chance to become intimate with curdled hands or even the downcast eyelashes of the woman and man and child long ago cast down. Perhaps they will have amulets and goddesses in arm, or perhaps they will hold nothing, except themselves, that one last possession, all limbs pulled in as if to ask the gods for respite now that their small bodies inhabit even tighter boundaries. Frescoes, vases, temples, carbonized loaves of bread: important. But enough of artifacts. I want to see a living face.
II. Dover, TN
Cumberland quiet. No boats on the water for weeks, fishes quizzical and nothing for the poor children playing on the banks to wave at wildly. We knew Major General Wheeler was there, with his men, waiting to disrupt shipping, and we did not give him that satisfaction. Today he arrived to scare out the bait, attacking our garrison. Fierce fighting commenced and by dusk, both sides were out of ammunition, nothing in the air but swallows over darkening pines, taking one last flight before close of day. Poor Matthew was shot in the mouth and eye and there was nothing we could do. But let his mother understand, even in her wailing, his noble sacrifice. For the glorious Union must hold now that it holds middle Tennessee!
III. Virginia City, Nevada Territory
Well what will sell must involve murder and death, probably a robbery and a cave with a skull in it, skeleton of a long ago missing judge. People want horse thieves, diabolical, then strung up, they drool for mayhem and intrigue and bars of silver scurried away from the Comstock load and revolvers on moonlit roads as a low eerie sound faintly issues forth from an abandoned shanty. It is no trouble for me to give it, in liberal supply, oil lamp lit here by my desk. I will be jovial and harum-scarum in turns but when I recount the rum-punch and the horse opera tune I sang which was of no account, I'd rather sign as something else-a cipher for barely navigable humor on hissing skates over an ocean of sorrow- my brother Henry's body sunk down in it, and no one to pull me back from this drowning, this terrible loss I always carry with me, waking or sleeping, so why not sign these lies, my death writ, with a stamped on wink, confident warning: two fathoms deep.
Jenn Blair has published work in Copper Nickel, Rattle, New South, South Carolina Review, Sugar Hill Review, and the Berkeley Poetry Review among others. Her chapbook The Sheep Stealer is out from Hyacinth Girl Press. She is from Yakima, WA.