Soldiers at the Battle of Lord Hallford's Lost Toe


stoop to eat hearts of the fallen
thus gaining the dead's courage.
Only the right ventricle
the left containing thick deposits
of his sorrow.  Tossing these rinds aside
they climb into a wobbly
ox-drawn cart (same damn cart
from last year's war) toward
other fields.
In summer, vines pull themselves up from
that earth holding out bull-black fruit,
fruit whose skin must be thick and taut
to keep all that sadness inside.
Its juice, once fermented, is best served with pheasant
or larger fish.

From the hills they come,
pock-faced and lean with
carelessness,
these boys to gather the fruit.
At month's end, now thick-armed and bronzed
from the unblinking sun
the boys kiss their girls
buy them soft things with warm change
and in the soft mounds of hay
slide hands across their sexes.
But those fingers, still stained dark
with the plant's thick juice,
remind them of their fathers,
dead from the war,
their mothers, gone—old loves, gone
the stain spreads down there
where it spreads to others in other beds
and so on and so forth
across the country
as wine sales soar through the roof.  
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