- Remembrance Day
Improper, though, the partof us that wants a body here. Re- memor—"mind
ful" actually, the Latin is incontrovertible. We wanta resurrection. Want membre, perhaps, from mems—"meat," or "flesh." Isn't memory, the argument goes, our most magnificentof surgeries? The soldiers—some
of them, no doubt, for ancestors, others the spectacle—execute (alltogether, the gray
& blue) their about-faceonto Lincoln Street, each group's parade sergeant swinging his replica cutlass, the sidewalksof Gettysburg thick with tourists. Townie children
wave little American flags. Vast coolers brim with pops. We want,
perhaps, the nineteenth century again—our men returned to us, the country's one body bandaged togetherwith the neat stitchwork of Law. The long column
of reenactors—also fifes & buglers, boys with wheelbarrows full of horse shit—stretches
through town to our streetof dive bars & T-shirt vendors. McClellan, raised, sips Fireball. Shaw's [End Page 119]
black troops relay a fishbowl to Stuart's Virginians. Artillery Punches slosh. Winecoolers. Juleps. The truces
of old, of course, came toowith their great trayfulls of cocktails. At Culp's Hill,
surgeons administered whiskey—it was my backyard, the tours will tell you, the rebels& Yanks beside each other in the hospital barns—before their procedures, bitclenched in the soldiers' mouths. Isn't memory,
more rightly, the pile of shinbones in the cutting room bucket? Oneleg lopped off at the hip. Isn't itthe South's stunned body they went back to & flew their bitterness over? Hoses. Affidavits. In reconstruction Texas, some men walked another man through town—the crowdwe know from photographs, his scaffolding like a float—& before they burned him ran irons through his feet& windpipe. Isn't this
our country? From "flesh." From a past we imagine could have been—oh isn't itsomething?—one once. Tecumseh Sherman drinks High Life at a picnic table.
He is a roofer from Knoxville. [End Page 120]
Christopher Kempf is the author of Late in the Empire of Men, which won the 2015 Levis Prize in Poetry (Four Way Books, 2017). He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. His work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, New Republic, PEN America, and Ploughshares, among other places. A recent Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, he is a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Chicago.