The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday and Antietam Battlefield

The Ferryer
By Sharon Olds

Three years after my father's death
he goes back to work. Unemployed
for twenty-five years, he's very glad
to be taken on again, shows up
on time, tireless worker. He sits
in the prow of the boat, sweet cox, turned
with his back to the carried. He is dead, but able
to kneel upright, facing forward
toward the other shore. Someone has closed
his mouth, so he looks more comfortable, not
thirsty or calling out, and his eyes
are open, there under the iris the black
line that appeared there in death. He is calm,
he is happy to be hired, he's in business again,
his new job is a joke between us and he
loves to have a joke with me, he keeps
a straight face. He waits, naked,
ivory bow figurehead,
ribs, nipples, lips, a gaunt
tall man, and when I bring people
and set them in the boat and push them off
my father poles them across the river
to the far bank. We don't speak,
he knows that this is simply someone
I want to get rid of, who makes me feel
ugly and afraid. I do not say
the way you did. He knows the labor
and loves it. When I dump someone in
he does not look back, he takes them straight
to hell. He wants to work for me
until I die. Then, he knows, I will
come to him, get in his boat
and be taken across, then hold out my broad
hand to his, help him ashore, we will
embrace like two who were never born,
naked, not breathing then up to our chins we will
pull the dark blanket of earth and
rest together at the end of the working day.


We spent Saturday at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland's most famous Civil War site since it was host to the bloodiest single day in U.S. history. There's an hour-long documentary narrated by James Earl Jones that's shown once a day at noon, so we got there early and walked around the monuments for a while, then saw the film and had a picnic under the trees by the visitor center. Then we took a driving tour (accompanied by CD) of the farms, cornfield, woods, Bloody Lane, Burnside's Bridge, and other sites, some of which had to be hiked to from the parking lots, particularly the bridge which is now a beautiful scenic spot crossing the creek and hard to imagine as a place of utter carnage.

A horse-and-buggy ride stops near an observation tower at Antietam National Battlefield.

A sunflower grows amidst tubes protecting saplings from deer where woods have been replanted so the battlefield will look the way it did the day of the fighting there.

The view up the Bloody Lane.

Dunker Church (named because the German pacifists who founded it completely immersed people being baptized there) with reenactor musicians.

Decoration on the beautiful Irish Brigade memorial. (The Irish Brigade monument at Gettysburg is my favorite there, too.)

View toward the cornfield from the Visitor Center.

Burnside's Bridge, held by a small division from Georgia for many hours while the Union Army under the command of Ambrose Burnside (for whom sideburns are also named) tried to take and cross it.

One of the calves born at South Mountain Creamery.

It was Civil War Music weekend at the battlefield, so there was a fife and drum corps performing on and off throughout the afternoon. We drove through Sharpsburg (and stopped for ice cream), then went to the Dunker Church for a program of fiddle music. It was about 5 p.m. when we left, so since South Mountain Creamery was still open, we stopped to see the calves, piglets, bunnies, and other animals, and bought cheese for dinner. In the evening, since we are apparently having Rodney Dangerfield Week, we watched Back To School which I don't think I'd seen since I was in college, long before I knew who Terry Farrell was, so imagine my surprise to see Jadzia Dax as the son's love interest.

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