Thursday, February 12, 2009


All the details are from Shelby Foote's history. I suspect this is a very bad poem, but I liked some bits of it, and I missed you all so I wanted to post something. I hated these kids in school: handsome strong boys whose grandpas had moved to Oregon from Arkansas because there weren't any niggers here, who had something better to do than school. I see it differently now. These are the kids who get sent to Iraq and get limbs blown off, who have minimum wage jobs to look forward to, if any. We're happy enough to use them as cannon fodder, and they're happy enough to go, at first: they believe what they're told. And afterwards, well, nobody listens to them anyway, so it doesn't matter.

His beard was gleaming gold and curly.
He couldn't find a comfortable way
to set the stump of his leg on the saddle;
by the end of the day he slid down
gasping with pain, and his adjutant
handed him his crutch.

Indomitable, they called him, the sort of boy
who never cries uncle, no matter how his face
Is ground into the dirt. One arm useless,
one leg gone, the Confederate sky falling
in lazy gray flakes on the long mud road:
John Bell Hood of Texas
who wasn't much good at school.

Joe Johnston wouldn't fight, because
he knew he'd lose; he fell back brilliantly
mountain by mountain. Sherman couldn't catch him:
the blue troops swept up to the breastworks
and found them empty, again and again.
Joe had slipped away.

But surely he'd fight for Atlanta? Alarmed
telegraphs tried to tell. Johnston wouldn't say:
He never liked to tip his hand. In Richmond
the anxiety grew. Lincoln would be re-elected
if Atlanta fell. That would be the end.

Hood, well, Hood
might not be the sharpest tool in the shed
but everyone knew he'd fight. The telegram
Finally came. Joe relieved of command:
John Bell Hood of Texas
had the Army of Tennessee.

In Joe's tent, Hood begged him
to put the order aside. At least until
the battle for Atlanta was fought. My God,
he didn't even know, said Hood,
where all the divisions were. "I'm a soldier,"
Johnston said. "What a soldier does

is obey." But he softened before Hood's anxiety.
He promised to stay and help a day or two.
He lied. He didn't mean to. But that night he did
what Joe always did best: he slipped away,
and John Bell Hood of Texas
had the Army of Tennessee.

He fought, all right: it was what he knew how to do,
What he'd done in the Valley, when the world was young;
savage attacks that had driven the green Union boys
and sent them running for home. Stonewall had been
His stern but loving father then. He gave the orders
and Hood obeyed. Now Hood was on his own. And

Sherman's men were different stuff. Ungallant,
impossible to catch in the open, building earthworks
everywhere they paused, burrowing like chiggers
in the flesh of the South. They knew when to fight
and when to run. Sherman exulted in the favor
The Rebs did him when they put Hood in command.

A month later, a soldier came at night
to ask for furlough. What was left of the last
marching army of the South was in tatters there.
He was sick and wounded and wanted to go
where his people were starving, and
starve at least at home. He wrote about it afterwards,

how the tears ran into the golden beard
the whole time. Hood signed his furlough and sent
him home. The tears never stopped, dripping
like diamonds in the light
of the burning kerosene, and he never spoke:
John Bell Hood of Texas weeping in his tent.

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