By: Cynthia Pitman
“When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
“When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.”
– Witches, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
“Conflict: Two forces working against one another.” But that’s everything, isn’t it? One force meets another: stasis, motion, repulsion, propulsion, infinite destruction from collision.
Best not to meet.
ii. Red Georgia Clay
We could hear the pop-pop-popping rifle shots from the army shooting range on the far side of the woods. The sounds of their shots became the sounds of ours as we replayed the battles of the Civil War. We were barefoot, of course; it was summertime, after all. The days were warm, a soft warm, a warm that embraced us, held us safe from harm. As we ran, the red Georgia clay squished between our toes and painted our feet a deep shade of henna. When we heard that pop and knew we were shot, we fell down, then rolled down the hill, the ground bumpy with the roots of the tall Georgia pines, coating ourselves with that thick red Georgia clay. In our battles – fierce but fake –, after we died, we could rise again and rejoin the fight, just as long as we were home by suppertime.
When we heard Mama call, we trudged home, tired but victorious over the wet red battles. When we got back, we were a sight to see: clothes and hands and feet bloody with red clay, and red clay war paint streaked on our faces. Mama fussed at the mess of us, but just a little. Then she washed us off with cold water from the hose. As we yielded to our cleansing, we watched the lightning bugs dart through the darkening sky.
Our childhood wars are gone now. No pop-pop-popping rifle shots from the long-abandoned shooting range. Now all seems quiet. Now the grass grows a soft green, undisturbed, masking the red clay below. But these verdant fields once were filled with spilled red blood. No one who died could rise again and rejoin the fight. For them, for those who really did feel the shots, who really did fall down in the mud, who really did roll down the hills, the battles were over. No red Georgia clay to hide behind, then wash off with pure, cold water that would make everything alright.
A war-weathered soldier, neither cherished nor feared for by anyone at home, marches the marsh-mud road to battle. Rifle slung over his shoulder, he stares at the boots that trample before his, seeking a steady rhythm that will move him mindlessly through the marsh, the mud, the terror, as he once again makes his way to hell.
In daylight, under fire from artillery shells, the soldiers seek safety in foxholes that riddle the battlefield, dug deep in hard dirt and tangled roots that ruthlessly resisted shovels. They stoop in the holes, keeping their heads down and their eyes open, wrapping their arms around their rifles and themselves. Again and again, they lift their heads and rifles just far enough to take quick aim, then risk quick shots at the enemy line.
Yet when night falls, when the skies stop exploding, they claw up the walls of their holes and slowly climb out, lie on their bellies, and point their rifles at the dark. No matter how cold, they hope for rain – rain that will wash away the deep stains coating them with dirt and ashes and blood and the weariness of war. When dawn breaks, they wriggle back into their foxholes, take their fetal stances, and, bombarded by bullets and grenades, endlessly return fire, waiting, desperately waiting, for their righteous crusade to prevail, that they might live again.
A sunken chest and lifts
but oxygen is impotent to save what’s left: a memory already gone.
v. While Berlin Burns
Hunkered down in the heavy bunker dug deep into an underground grave, the lucky bride-to-be sits before the mirror, carefully applying her blood-red lipstick, the same color that soon will spill on the floor as she lies aside her new husband, a hell-bound hell-hound, who slumps in his chair with a bullet in his head – lifeless newlyweds with the crushed glass of their cyanide wedding toast encrusted upon their lips.
vi. Back Home
His wife lives alone on the outskirts of town. They married young. A year later, he left to go to war, and war had kept him in a grave in Normandy. His folded flag sits on their coffee table, next to their photo taken one Christmas long ago, when life seemed endless. She practices talking to his photo so she won’t forget how to talk. She talks about the weather, mostly. If rain will come. Or the heat let up. Or the last snowfall come late and kill the wildflowers just as they are beginning to spring. And if it does, if once again all goes cold dead and bound under the hard ground, will life ever be found again, here, on the outskirts of town?
The hurly-burly flag unfurls against the slate gray sky, signaling spent battles in which all has been lost and all has been won, the conquered vanquished, the conqueror triumphant. The flag ripples, buckles, beats its breast with a shout of conquest as it waves exultant, having set all war at peace. But the wind that blows and billows the flag’s folds knows it only need slow and all peace will rescind and war begin again.
The winds of war blow fast and strong.
The witches sing their witchy song:
“Double, double, toil and trouble.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
All signs show it won’t be long
Til bombs again turn life to rubble.
Cynthia Pitman, a retired English teacher, has been published in Literary Yard, Ariel Chart, Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine, Pain and Renewal Anthology (Vita Brevis Press, Third Wednesday (One Sentence Poem Contest finalist), Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Arts (Pushcart Prize nominee, 2019), Amethyst Review, Ariel Chart, Ekphrastic Review, Adelaide Literary Review, Right Hand Pointing, Dual Coast Magazine, and others. Her poetry collection, The White Room, is forthcoming.