War

by William Carpenter

It’s one of those nights after the surrender of Iraq,
not much on TV any more, your family’s in another state
for Easter, and you’re watching “The Civil War” again.
McClellan’s wasting so much time at Sharpsburg that you
get a beer out of the kitchen and come back and he’s
still staring at the river. You shout at the daguerreotype:
attack, get it over with, Lee’s weak, you can finish him
off, but he won’t listen and the war goes on, the amputations
without anaesthesia, the men saying goodbye to their own hands
while Walt Whitman reads to them from Sir Walter Scott.
You’ve seen it twice. You know how it’s going to end.
You step out on the porch and look through the window
at the empty chair watching Jeb Stuart at Bull Run.
This is a foggy evening. You hear a footstep on the lawn,
a voice. You see a man with a white flag tied to his rifle,
a man in uniform with a leaflet that says I SURRENDER.
He’s got an eye missing, a tiedoff pantleg, an AK47
and a hole right through his chest to the other side.
He’s an Iraqi. He’s one of the dead soldiers that got bombed
by the B52’s, and he wants you to bury him, not in the desert
either, but in your own front lawn, where your grass is just
sprouting like the first tender appearance of pubic hair.
The corpse looks through the window with his good eye while
the Union army under Sherman torches Atlanta, and the sight of
all those fires excites him even though he’s dead.
You want to give him a beer and feed him, but he starts
kneeling and kissing your hand, he starts pulling you toward
the lawn and making motions like a man digging a grave, but
you can’t do it, you can’t bury a human being in your yard.
He points with his rifle toward the flower patch, where
your tulips and crocuses are just coming out. Now the gun’s
right on you, and you don’t ask if a carcass can still pull
the trigger, you just dig, and when you’ve finished digging
the man lies down. Back on TV there’s a parade in New York City.
Lee has surrendered at Appomattox and the war is over, but not
for you; you have to cross this man’s arms over his chest and
lay his gun beside him and cover him over with black garden dirt.
You have to replant all the bulbs in the dark so that your wife
and kids won’t stumble upon the body and find out. You have to go
in and watch the shooting in Ford’s Theater because it’s not complete without the assassination; but it’s too late, they’ve shot Lincoln
and played the Star Spangled Banner and the screen is blank, it’s
only you and the dead soldier and there’s nothing he can do to help.