After the Wilderness

By Andrew Hudgins b. 1951 Andrew Hudgins

MAY 3, 1863

When Clifford wasn’t back to camp by nine,   
I went to look among the fields of dead   
before we lost him to a common grave.   
But I kept tripping over living men   
and had to stop and carry them to help   
or carry them until they died,
which happened more than once upon my back.   
And I got angry with those men because   
they kept me from my search and I was out
still stumbling through the churned-up earth at dawn,   
stopping to stare into each corpse’s face,   
and all the while I was writing in my head   
the letter I would have to send our father,   
saying Clifford was lost and I had lost him.

I found him bent above a dying squirrel   
while trying to revive the little thing.   
A battlefield is full of trash like that —   
dead birds and squirrels, bits of uniform.   
Its belly racked for air. It couldn’t live.   
Cliff knew it couldn’t live without a jaw.   
When in relief I called his name, he stared,   
jumped back, and hissed at me like a startled cat.
I edged up slowly, murmuring “Clifford, Cliff,”   
as you might talk to calm a skittery mare,   
and then I helped him kill and bury all
the wounded squirrels he’d gathered from the field.
It seemed a game we might have played as boys.   
We didn’t bury them all at once, with lime,   
the way they do on burial detail,   
but scooped a dozen, tiny, separate graves.
When we were done he fell across the graves
and sobbed as though they’d been his unborn sons.   
His chest was large — it covered most of them.   
I wiped his tears and stroked his matted hair,   
and as I hugged him to my chest I saw
he’d wet his pants. We called it Yankee tea.

Andrew Hudgins, “After the Wilderness” from After the Lost War. Copyright © 1988 by Andrew Hudgins. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: After the Lost War (1988)

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Poet Andrew Hudgins b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Pets, Living, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, Relationships, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Andrew  Hudgins


Poet Andrew Hudgins was born in Killeen, Texas, in 1951. The eldest son in a military family, Hudgins moved around the American South for much of his childhood, eventually attending Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1983. His poetry is known for its dark humor, formal control, and adept handling of voice. Hudgins’s first book, Saints and Strangers (1986), was . . .

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SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Pets, Living, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, Relationships, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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