Read Poetry: Battle Cry, by Karlyle Tomms

I found an old brass button in my back yard.
It once adorned a Union soldier’s uniform,
And lay among the blades of grass almost a hundred and fifty years.
It waited patiently, finally to be discovered.
How many times had I stepped over it, or mowed past it, never to notice?
I had lived on the property for ten years, and there it lay the whole time,
But there it lay for all the previous years combined.
I picked it up to see the eagle still proudly spreading wings beneath the clustered bits of dirt,
And realized, I may have been the first to touch it
Since the soldier whose uniform it once embellished last pushed it into the button hole.
Likely, he had camped on this ground.
My house, over a hundred years old, was not standing then.
This hillside was likely pasture rolling up above the county courthouse.
They had burned this tiny town to the ground, left it in ruins,
And left anguished survivors to rebuild, and try again.
My mind envisioned the battle, gray and blue uniforms soaked in dark red blood,
Fierce screaming rage, gunshots echoing among the oaks, and bayonets stabbing.
America’s bloodiest war left almost seven hundred thousand dead,
And those who died were brothers and friends, family and neighbors.
Many sacrificed that others might have freedom previously deprived.
Could this one have lived to face another day, or did he die on the ground where I was standing?
Did his blood saturate this sod, and marry the red clay deep beneath my feet?
Was this button ripped off his jacket as his corpse was dragged away,
Or, did it merely fall unnoticed from thread worn thin?
If he survived, what wounds did he carry from this place,
Wounds that others could not see?
Did fitful nightmares of battle cries make him sweat through cotton sheets?
Did he startle, half from his skin, at the snap of a twig?
Did he sit alone and weep with guilt and remorse for those he loved who fell beside him,
Or did he grieve for those, once his countrymen, whom he had killed?
Did someone weep for him while watching his silent torment,
Or weep because he had never come home?
Only a guess is possible now.
As I held the button in my hand, I could not help but wonder, who last touched it,
And what was he like?
Where did he come from,
And where did he go?
Whoever he was, he swayed my heart, and made me think.
Without knowing I would ever live, much less come to stand in this place,
He touched me.
Whoever he was, he honored me that I could hold this small button in my hand,
And wipe the years of bitter dirt away
So it could shine again.



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