In Memoriam: for the Unknown Soldier at Red Bank Battlefield

As the crow flies— over the Delaware River©️Merril D. Smith 2021

In Memoriam: for the Unknown Soldiers at Red Bank Battlefield

August,
is a broad river expanse
where time ripples and bends
under a laden, leaded sky

the morning moon, her song a sigh
floats on heron’s wings to flutter
by the gulls and geese,
who wonder what and why.

Now coal-black crows with peacock flair
and gangster elan strut across the grass,
summer is almost past they call–
but not quite yet whispers the butterfly,

the rabbits hop and turkeys trot
and deer with smooth grace retrace
past seasons. The river flows on,
an unanswered question, a memory, a lullaby

for unsettled spirits amidst brittle relics
where they once cried and died,

under an autumn sky,
they drift above ground settling bone-full and dry.

Early Morning, Red Bank Battlefield

I took a poem I had written last August and started revising it. It then demanded that I turn it into a poem to honor the remains of the Hessian soldiers found this summer at Red Bank Battlefield where I walk almost every day. The official announcement was made this past Tuesday.

I like that in the various reports I’ve read that historian Jennifer Janofsky and archeologist Wade Catts have emphasized not only that this is an exciting and unexpected discovery, but that it also emphasizes the brutality of war. They hope to be able to identify some of the soldiers from their remains, and they will be reburied. So, I have more River Ghosts.

Here’s the link to the website about the project.

I’m sharing this with dVerse Open Link Night.

56 thoughts on “In Memoriam: for the Unknown Soldier at Red Bank Battlefield

  1. I LOVE this poem! The rhyme scheme is so striking in its effectiveness. The poem as a whole aside, this is my favorite stanza:

    Now coal-black crows with peacock flair
    and gangster elan strut across the grass,
    summer is almost past they call–
    but not quite yet whispers the butterfly,

    Brilliant!

      • And I think about how all that time, the soldiers knew they were there (so to speak), they were real, what happened did happen, and yet it was as if it had not…but, the soldiers knew it did. Now we know. And what infinite other situations are there like this? That question has occurred to me a lot over my life, when something hidden comes to light, I think…What else is there? And where?

      • Yes, I agree. Children were probably running over them, and deer, and who knows? And all the things that never do come to light. There was a movie that came out a few years ago called A Ghost Story in which a ghost is rooted to the spot where he lived and died and he sees how it changes over time. He’s a part of it and not.

      • Hmmm, I will have to look up this movie. It sounds interesting. It seems to me it would be torture to have to endure the changes to your world and not be able to escape it or participate in it.

      • It does end up being sad. It’s 2017 A Ghost Story with Casey Affleck. It looks ridiculous, but it’s poignant. I think about it a lot. There are lots of scenes with no talking. . . .

    • Thank you very much, Derrick.
      In one of the articles I read, the historian said one of the soldiers was somewhere between 17-19, around the age of many of her students, and how that struck her.

  2. Oh my, you had me at the first verse, but then the second…and so on! This poem has a delicate, rhythmic breath and the tie into August and the tragic discovery …it all just works beautifully.

  3. Yes, more river ghosts….
    The brutality of war revealed.
    Yet, war is no ghost, it thrives
    Takes lives revered.

    Fantastic poem and a wonderful tribute, Merril.

    You/they talk about digging up history, which we never seem to learn from, only about.

  4. This is so beautiful. I feel my voice must echo the others with the favourite stanza:
    “Now coal-black crows with peacock flair
    and gangster elan strut across the grass,
    summer is almost past they call–
    but not quite yet whispers the butterfly”
    Wonderful.

  5. Beautiful and evocative, Merril. As if you can feel ghosts being laid to rest. I particularly love the lines:

    “under a laden, leaded sky

    the morning moon, her song a sigh”

    “The river flows on,
    an unanswered question, a memory, a lullaby”

    • Thank you so much, Ingrid! 💙

      No, this was a battle from the Revolutionary War fought in October 1777 during our war of independence from Great Britain. This was when the British occupied Philadelphia, just across the river. The soldiers are believed to be German soldiers, commonly known as Hessian soldiers, who were employed to fight for England. The house that you see sometimes in my photos had belonged to a Quaker family, and it served as a field hospital after the battle.

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