Elegy for an Unknown Confederate Drummer-Boy
(Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, 30 November 1864)
Did he whittle wood with a jack-knife?
Did he angle for catfish?
Did he smoke a corncob pipe?
What pond did he splash into
from a rope swing on a summer day?
Did he dance at a jamboree
to the patter call of a hoedown
with the kissing-cousin-
sweetheart of his dreams?
He only remains
in the report of an enemy soldier
who watched that drummer-boy charge
to save his rebel friends
before more were scythed
and threshed by volleys, before more
lives were winnowed from bodies,
torn and shredded by cannon.
To kill a big Federal gun
before the gun could kill again,
he stuffed a fence rail into its mouth.
But instead the cannon killed him,
spat him into a mist of blood
with splinters of fence rail,
splatters of flesh, and shards
of his bones and his drum.
Gone, his memories – of winter
with his family in the warmth of their home,
of his hound-dog by his side
when he hunted ’possum, squirrel, or ’coon,
of the womanly kiss from his cousin
when he marched off to war –
gone like every trace of him.
But sometimes over Franklin
a face is shaped by a cloud
before a dirge of drums in thunder
and the anonymous grieving of rain.
Jack Grady is a founder member of the Irish-based Ox Mountain Poets. His poetry has been published online and in print in Ireland, the USA, the UK, and France. He was the Irish poet invited to the 2016 international poetry festival in Marrakesh, Morocco, where he read in April.