Park Service Tour, Pickett’s Charge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Imagine a cylinder about the size of a tomato juice can, packed with iron
balls. Exiting the cannon’s muzzle, the tin rips open, shot scatters and flies toward you,
whirring like the wing-beats of a partridge. So he plants us in the shoes of the dead.
Carrying plywood-and-PVC muskets, high school students on our tour
duck through a fence. Imagine bullets clattering rails and posts faster than hail
on a roof. Before they double-time toward the stone wall, he taps every
third one of them to fall somewhere, the charge’s final stage an exercise
in Advanced Placement History. Earlier, in the Visitor Center, a soldier,
chest blown out, hurled back on wheat, forearms upraised, stared from a photograph.
Imagine corn, oats and wheat growing here, in place of this tall grass. He conjures up
Landscape Rehabilitation, its aim to restore to farmland the fields of fire.
Tucson Mountains, Arizona
From the supplicating arm of a saguaro, a mourning dove calls me to shade cast by a smooth rock face. Gravel’s damp here, a mile up the wash
where it widens, could be a spring beneath. That block of stone, size of a fridge, fallen from the wall opposite, bears a figure on the surface exposed to the sun. Like two forks,
three-tined, facing away from each other but joined at the handles. Pecked there. Impenetrable, it draws me in, the word prehistoric like gravel in my mouth.
Dear Whoever, you who found the blank stone, who possessed the water and time: Chipping away, did you notice a desert cardinal perched at the end of an ocotillo branch,
swaying as it sang from the flame of its blossoms? You set your tool down. I raise my water bottle in a toast, you and I both permanent as a post card written from this basin.
John Willson is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Artist Trust of Washington. A two-time finalist in the National Poetry Series, John lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where he has been designated an Island Treasure.