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Stated Focus

ISSUE:  Fall 2004

[with a snuffler alert]

Late May, 1754: George Washington watches
as one of his confederates, the Iroquois warrior
Half-King, reaches down to the corpse
of a freshly slain French ensign,
scoops the still warm brain
from out of the opened skull, and slowly
squeezes it in victory.
These were arduous times. Washington
felt required to see deserters whipped
until they freely bled; the worst offenders
had this doled out over days: the newer beatings,
laid on yet-unhealed skin, increased their torment.
This was war. War has no favorites:
the first colonial casualty, Christopher Snider,
was shot as he bent to lift a rock for throwing:
he was eleven. Deacon Josiah Haynes was seventy-nine
when he died under British gunfire. You can see,
I’m reading histories of the American Revolution,
filled with moments like this: “There were also accounts
of British officers slicing off the faces of Americans
with their swords.” Enough of that,

enough of the acrid odors and powdery haze
of cannon shot, enough of orders for bayoneting the chests
of surrendering soldiers, and we come to think
life is the pain of military violence. Of course
the books I’m consulting have no room for a recognition
of anything else. They can’t enlarge
their stated focus. It would be like expecting
the truffle pig to break from its training and beeline
toward the blithe wink of a rose;
or like—well, any of your own day’s overbounty
of examples. Even the ordinarymost of events
shrunk under the touch of the war: routines
of the bayside oyster pickers needed, now, to be timed
about the scheduled rounds of British shore patrols
—and when to run? and when to stand and fire back?
The chapters roll on, and the gossip of fatality
is an undercurrent in pillow talk,
and choir hymns, and everything gets turned to its use:
the Charleston militia is provided the lead
from out of church windows for bullets.
We read, the chapters mount—we’d never know

in the hold of these books that death
for almost everyone is still a result of the body’s
own betrayal, that it happens on a calm day
under quiet sky, as finally—after years—the interior
laces snag and tear, the interior
slickness spawns such barnacles of human growth
as strangle the breath at its source.
So Jaspeth Vanderpoole was taken to his maker
by a bloody flux. A bout of the pernicious palpitations
did the same for Rebekkah LeCheour,
whose spirit flew from her on what, if we believe
the literality inside the words, were wings
of sour foam, and these her daughter Hope
did pat from time to time off her lips
with a cloth that was provided against corruption
by the application of sassafras and honey.
Those are modest, slow, domestic, and entirely
representative scenes. Somewhere, the weekly
candles are being made; and the soap; and the suet … but
we’ll never know: our target is the infantrymen
at Concord and at Bunker Hill. And [here,

the frail synapse of a stanza break, is where a snuffler
often finds it easiest to enter through, from far
outside our own declared perimeter …
some truffle pig out rooting for a lump of gender studies;
or of fashion-through-the-ages; or of woo-woo-woo,
Three-Stooges-like conniptions … and it needs to be
shooed into someone else’s poem]
(this being now April 18, 1775) a man and a woman
are taking their lazy, luscious pleasure in the wooded
Massachusetts hills—the trees act as a thick,
permissive curtain for their intimacies. And she’s
a little swizzled from a serving of whipped sillabub,
and he’s a version of correspondingly boggy—not
from cider or flip or a burgundy wine, but from
the musky aura that her body offers up. The fine,
pine-powder duff of the forest floor is a nearly
velvet cushion; and the dough of themselves, that rises
from the heat of themselves, is a savory thing.
From Downhill toward the town, the distant, tiny pop
of a musket going off. Must be some boys out
hunting goose or hare with their daddy’s old gun.



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