Sitting in our family van, waiting on my husband at the mechanics, in a city with bad memories involving craters, tunnels and noble dead soldiers, I chose to lift my eyes.
I saw not mountains but tree tops — city pines determinedly spreading their boughs and asserting their presence over the trash-filled underbrush of roadside lots. Crowded together amidst the pollution and neglected crush of aged urban habitation, they stood. The darkness of their trunks, mixed with the indistinct brown of their lower dying branches, in dreary confederacy with the gray of arid asphalt and old concrete, connoted burnt remains.
But half-way up those time scarred trunks, what vibrant courage held my gaze! Healthy, verdant branches, like 5,500 arms holding aloft, from earth’s offal strewn on broken pavements, bustled skirts in forest-green needles rose.
Their elegant motion swept my eyes up to their tippy tops, reminding me of days of my childhood when gazing out of my aunt’s bedroom window at dawn, I thought I caught the first zephyrs of morning as they stirred the highest leaves of the ackee trees overhanging the side yard. I grew to love that time of day, to love the promise of life at the top of the tallest trees at dawn – the apices of morning.
The resolve and dignity of those city pines, Phoenix-like in their location and liberated stance, against corrupted natures’ claims, inspired.
The truth and nostalgia they evoked, in union with hope and gratitude, held my gaze and demanded a true-blue offering, born of sweeter memories, to the noble dead I was tempted to forget. So hilt and blade saluting, in the crater city, I wrote:
(Monument by Crater Road)
To the sky
Catch the dawn-light’s
Glorious tree tops
Touched by breeze
Stirred by passing
Of His train
Cheer night’s yielding
To His reign
Pierce the heart
Release the life.
Historical Note: The “Battle of the Crater”, as it has become known, occurred in Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864. It took place towards the end of the American Civil War and was a failed effort by Union soldiers from the North to end the siege of Petersburg. 5,500 Union soldiers died in this battle.