Vestiges

by RC James
Babilu
First Place, July 2016
Judged by Lee Nash


In woods around my home in fall,
broad trees concealed within brown leaves
at pre-dawn, dark men, frozen all
like blue and grey clad dusky thieves
behind the trees; a wayward dream.
Spooked horses whimper all in vain,
as ghosts of Chickamauga scream,
dim vestiges alone remain.

The curve of her soft back recalled,
sustains the husband on his march,
reduced now to a staggered crawl.
At rest feels her on the larch,
then rises in a shaky reel;
November’s relentless rain
restores the bloody, grim ordeal,
dim vestiges alone remain

Cold bodies lie from cannons’ sprawl,
loss conquers gains in victory.
In fields of wheat men stand in thrall
and those from both sides clearly see;
like those at home might too, bereaved,
mute avowal of the slain.
The dead surmount dead; country cleaved,
dim vestiges alone remain

Co-mingled soldiers’ blood conceives
ground plowed come early spring; inflamed,
waves gold in sunlight shine, relieved,
dim vestiges alone remain.


A well-crafted and evocative ballade that explores the visual and emotional remnants of war, "Vestiges" reminds us of personal loss and of the echoes of past battles that, if we quieten ourselves enough, we can hear reverberating. We read "bereaved," "slain," "dead" and "cleaved" in the third stanza yet move on toward "conceives," "spring," "sunlight," and "relieved" in the envoy. The vestiges remain, as a warning, yet we are offered hope. --Lee Nash

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