In photos of the Civil War—no action.
Cameras could not yet capture
bodies in motion. No battles, just battlefields,
landscapes after. Trees, bark blasted off,
burned bridges and barriers overcome.
Broad strokes of blackened fields, sweeping
the eye from the small interjections of fallen fence
and fireplace, standing alone, to disappearing points,
detail broken down in the indiscriminate texture
of rubble and wreck.
For film to register faces, people had to keep still
so long they wore iron neck braces,
not to tremble and blur the picture. Bodies
gun-shot didn’t pose such a problem,
and must have piled themselves before the photographer.
But how hopeless it would have been to show the dead,
when, in a composition, trees can function as a frame,
form a place where tensions are only between background
and fore. And the shattered buildings, the splintered beams—
they thrust up into the shape of branches, growing back.
— after the photographs of George N. Barnard, photographer for General Sherman
On the Move
Crepe myrtle’s confetti of flowers.
Magnolia polished to mirror shine.
Live oaks that never let go
of their leaves, some standing since
the Civil War. And shacks,
empty of sharecroppers fled North.
Scenery of the South. Of survival.
For which trees still try. Seedling by seedling,
tree species can seek higher ground.
Can move, migrate where it’s cooler
as the weather, that climate, changes.
Though there are people who believe
the temperature and every how it has been
will stay. While the symbols of endurance
un-root and edge away.
Header photograph: Georgia, New Hope Church, Hell Hole, Battlefield of by George N. Barnard (circa 1862-1865), courtesy Wikipedia Commons and National Archives and Records Administration.