THE ONLY NOUN TO FOLLOW THE VERB OF WAR
BURNING BIRCH & CEDAR * NIGHT BLOOMING JASMINE
(this fable intersects with NOUVELLE ORLEANS)
The man woke from a peculiar sleep, his head, lying on a bed of rocks; his jaw throbbing and bruised. He raised his head slowly, his hands discovering the impressions the gravel had left on his cheek. He tried to lift himself off the ground, but became so dizzy that he immediately lay his head back down. He took in the sky above. It was a watery blue with bolls of cotton floating across its surface.
After he dozed awhile, he managed to stand up. He was in a field surrounded by large colorful trees. The ground was covered with odd silhouettes, randomly scattered. There were metal balls, broken carts and the smell of smoke. It was as if a storm had hit and the world had fallen from the sky. The man did not understand. He moved closer to one of the dark silhouettes and noticed that it took human form. Its light eyes were looking directly up at heaven, as he had done only moments before.
He walked further, with a pained step, and took in the oddness that surrounded him; bodies everywhere. In the distance, smoke rose from three directions. The man knew that he had to get out of there, immediately, but didn’t understand why. He felt the danger, but couldn’t focus on what it was. He lumbered away from the field, avoiding looking into the vacant eyes of the strangers.
He walked towards the road and instinctually found a direction: North. The road itself was serene with red and gold leaves shifting in the afternoon light. He passed houses and tall wooden barns (on fire), fields of broken corn, and animals running loose in a panic. His mind remained a blank, with no connection to the why or how of his day. He walked on into the evening. The moon arrived as the sun left. The road ahead, was a corridor of fire. A pyre of birch trees spit flames onto the road, illuminating the man’s tobacco colored skin. He took in a tired breath, the air dusty with smoke. To his left, a trunk of cedar beleaguered by fire suddenly split open, sending the man into a bramble of jasmine.
He huddled in the bramble, stunned. Eventually, he got up, brushed himself off, and looked through his pockets to see if he could find anything, something to eat perhaps. The only thing he found was a piece of paper in his coat. He unfolded the paper and stared at it expressionless. It was covered with symbols, none of which he could make sense of. At the bottom of the letter something was stamped alongside an almost floral image. He did not know how to read. Thinking about this a little more, the man also realized that he didn’t know if he had a name, or where home was. These thoughts brought forth an immense sorrow and provoked the weeping that he had staved off all day.
A river ran alongside the road. The man took off his shoes and cooled his feet in the dark water. The moon had risen to its full height and the man searched his mind for hints of his life or anything that would guide him.
That night he slept under a cart he found, far away from the fires and the smoke. He woke up in the morning and started off on the road again. A short while down the road, a hill came into view, dotted with what looked like people. Getting closer, the tiny dots enlarged, came into focus, and became soldiers in blue uniforms, wearily cleaning guns and mending their shoes. A wave of fear came over him and it occurred to him to turn around. His mind was weighing his thoughts when one of the soldiers noticed him and jumped up shouting. The solider grabbed a rifle and ran down the hill in his direction. The soldier demanded that he stop and put his arms in the air.
Unsure how to address the soldiers and very weak from lack of food, he took the letter out of his pocket and handed it to the officer. The officer read the letter slowly, folded it up, and handed it back to the man. “Antoine Walker, welcome to Richmond. Am I to understand that you are enlisting in the union army?” Antoine nodded back, bewildered.
The officer pointed Antoine in the direction of a line of tents in the valley just west of the hill. As the officer turned away, he said, “By the way, Antoine, you may want to throw that Bill of Sale away – You are a free man now.”
Antoine could not comprehend what the officer was saying. He headed towards the tents and to his great relief, was offered a hunk of stale bread. The food gave him strength and he sat down on the grass to allow his body to catch up, once again taking in the open sky. A free man? What was this officer saying? His loss of history continued to burden him and made him feel strangely out of place. There was however, one beacon of light amongst his great confusion; the one thing he could focus on, the one heavenly gift, and, that, he thought to himself, was he finally knew what his name was. Antoine Walker. A fine name.
Copyright © 2009 Meike Kopp, All Rights reserved.