Traveling by Train through Manassas
Traveling by train, you pass a station
boarded with wood
shattered in forgotten wars.
Old men still stand
in dust by the tracks,
waving gnats away. You wave back
out of respect for something
dying, alone, in small towns.
At twilight, sun settles
low in your window
and, inside your car,
people return to local papers,
reading them back to front,
papers train-shaken and flapping
like the hands of those old men
by Manassas Station
who wait, continue to wait
for something to happen.
The first Battle of Bull Run showed that it would take months of stern discipline to harden the farm hands, store clerks, bookkeepers, brakemen, and teamsters so that they would stand in the face of fire.
Harry Hansen, The Civil War: A History
They begin their march toward home
unexpectedly at first,
to feel packs on their backs.
Once in the cover of the woods
they understand they have planned all along
to stretch out one leather-soled trudge,
then another, until puffs of dust rise
rhythmically to their nostrils,
easy at first as early morning ballet.
Later, miles from camp and hungry, when wind
shoves against their struggling forms,
they learn what the miner knows
when he lifts himself from the pit,
feeling all over
the weight of his body, the strength of air.