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Sarracino, Carmine, 1944- / The heart of war
(2004)

The old soldiers,   pp. 37-39


Page 37


The Old Soldiers
I.
The old soldiers remembered mud.
They told grandchildren yarns
of a Private, Johnny Mudd.
Mud pulled on their aching legs, like a cruel prank.
Mud sucked shoes and boots right off their feet.
Mud mired wagons, cannon, caissons.
Mud swallowed mules, heaving and braying
until their flared nostrils closed over.
Until it looked like the drover was fishing
with rope for some mudfish he could not land.
Until he slashed the rope and glared, fists
on hips, at the last coil slipping
into the belching
goddam mud goddamit.
They did not remember battle, the old soldiers.
They remembered stories about battle.
Stories with beginnings, middles, endings,
they told and retold.
As if they understood what happened.
They remembered comrades most of all,
boys who'd played Ring Taw and Fives.
Fishing mates, pranksters, hunting pards.
Enlisting together, boarding trains together
to tent camps in Harrisburg... Providence.
Richmond. . . Charlotte. . ... Emerging
dressed up in kepis, frocks and sacks.
Bristling with Bowies, Colt's revolvers, bayonettes.
Swearing great oaths. Posing for ambrotypes.
Goosing one another with the muzzles of rifles.
Sharing canteens, blanketrolls, last hardtack crackers.
37


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