The Huts at Esquimax

for Dave Smith

Our clothes are still wet from wading
The Chickamunga last evening.
There is heavy frost. We have
Walked on the dead all night.
Now in the firelight
We are exchanging shells and grapeshot.

I can still hear our loud huzzah
When late in the day
The enemy fell into full retreat
Along the pine ridge to the east. . .

We chased them until we were weary.
Each night this week
There’s been something
To keep me from sleep. Just an hour ago
I saw

A dead sharpshooter sitting
Against a rock with a scallop
Of biscuit still lodged in his mouth.
He wore one silk sock.

Snedikerhas returned from Chattanooga
With five thousand convalescents
For the left wing of their musketry.

We have roasted a deer
With a molasses sauce and pepper.
Magrill and zandt have returned
From horse hunting with a sack of sugar.

By morning we will have buried our dead
And fed the prisoners: Joe Cotton

Will hang all seven of them in one tree
When he sees they’re done
Licking their fingers. . .

I shot a Rebel yesterday
In high water just for cursing me.
Just six months ago
For that alone it would have meant
Three days in stockade.

We can see now that cannonading
Has set the hillside on fire.
The wounded Grays
Will be burned
Beyond their Christian names. . .

Joe Cotton says he’d ask God
For rain, but he’s got no tent
And river water
Has chilled him straight through

To the very quick of his being.

Norman Dubie, “The Huts at Esquimaux” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org
Source: The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)