The Great Myths #21: Families & Cities in Time of War (To the House of the Sun)

& once in Chattanooga, a vision comes: & he sits there stunned among them: & he watches as families eat & drink or just laugh, as if life lasts forever—& then half drop off & disappear:

he sees two men in front of a store,
& then only one:
two women at laundry
or two slaves in the street
or two children on a stoop—
& then only one:

& some men even seem to split in two themselves, & fall away:

so many will die—
& those far away will die of sickness or the gun:
& those who survive will be wrung by hunger:

& War has always been a recent memory or a coming terror—

& whatever a father hoards,
is burned in the time of his grandson,
while the scorched earth remains forever:
while the sun rises & the sun sets:
while the moon is small or full:
while the wind blows North or South, & returns:
while water flows endlessly  
     from mountain
     to river
     to sea,
all while those who live beneath the sky
or upon the earth
or beside the mountain
or amidst the wind & the water
are wearied by the moment they have—
     & the present is a horror for the eye
     & awful for the ear,
     & always has been.
& already it’s happening, to these people:
     they hear of battles:
they see friend after friend brought home in coffins:
they see friend after friend brought home ready for the churchyard:
& mourning clothes are no longer uncommon:
& soon the cork leg will be the commonest thing:
& soon the one-armed man will attract no attention:
& soon they will have gotten used to it all:
& soon War will not even interrupt their breakfast or disturb a moment of sleep:

& they come upon a dead soldier’s things at auction—twenty-five for his saddle & shotgun together: eighty for his fifteen hogs: thirty-five for his watch (which dangles like a tarnished new-sun before disappearing into the seller’s side-pocket): twenty-seven for two jars of lard (immediately bid on by soldiers still alive): & a hundred-fifty for his buggy & harness—(a buggy seen in the background, the dead soldier’s family still crowded inside it):

& an old man beneath a tree stares wordless or weeps the words from his mouth as the front of his shirt becomes wet with the water from his eyes—& he’s not from the city, but a farmer from far away: & his son was supposed to pass through with his regiment—but when they came through, he was not with them:

& the shade of the tree like a cloud is atop him:
& while old, he’s still a handsome man,
handsome till he pours dust on his head & face:
     till he scatters ashes on his shoulders & shirt:
     till he lies amid the dust & defiles his hair with the dirt:
& women come and keen beside him:
& they learn from his words that his wife is gone,
     & his son an only child:
& they learn from his words that his field has gone foul,
     & soon he will too, from starvation:
& he says God has betrayed him,
     & taken his family:
God has made the seed betray him:
God has made the seed & the sun betray him & their duties:
God has made the stars & the wind betray him:
God has made the weeds thrive:
God has made loss, & choking, thrive:

& having no remnant of his son to hold to, one woman gives him a folded flag—& the stars there have not betrayed him: & he is fed from that battleflag, as if his boy were beside him.

 – Tim Miller, To the House of the Sun, Book 6, 71-73.

Read the other Great Myths here