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.
Rose McLarney has published two collections of poems, Its Day Being Gone (Penguin Books, 2014) and The Always Broken Plates of Mountains (Four Way Books, 2012). Its Day Being Gone is the 2013 National Poetry Series winner. Rose has been awarded fellowships by the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and Warren Wilson College; is the 2016 Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place; and won the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in publications including The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Missouri Review, and dozens of other journals. Rose earned her MFA from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers and has taught at the college, among other institutions. Currently, she is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Auburn University and Editor and Poetry Editor of Southern Humanities Review.
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.