George Elliott Clarke | from WAR CANTICLES

from War Canticles

A Soldier’s Story


We spurn bandages, medicines.

Lee rallies, bids us see Virginia as precious,
ourselves as audacious,

oblivious to high, Deep South percentages
of the deep-sixed,

the grey uniforms splotched scarlet,
botched, tattered, and scattered about,

to host hungry, teeming insects—
at table and at toilet.


The most famous Rebels
turn inglorious, decorated meat,

due to doohickeys—
murderous, newfangled guns

vomiting bullets—
or they succumb to other grisly gizmos.


If Lee surges out of mint-condition dawn,
to exploit Enemy misdiagnoses,

he tries Yankee weakness,
assured that lead poisoning

toppled Rome,
arsenic cancelled Napoleon,

and viper venom
wiped out Cleopatra.

Thus, why won’t blood—
that unnatural liniment—

if enough slinks out in gouts—
flush the North states into a sewer?

It’s no harebrained surmise,
no discordant Strategy.

Lee’s devoted sadism
be his extreme love letter to Dixie!

[Cambridge (Massachusetts) 7 mai mmxiv]

Author’s Bio

Portrait by Melanie Janisse

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and the 7th Parliamentary/Canadian Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1960. A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Clarke has also taught at Duke, McGill, UBC, and Harvard. His recognitions include the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre Fellowship (US), the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and International Fellow Poet of the Year [2019] (China). His acclaimed titles include Whylah Falls (1990, translated into Chinese), Beatrice Chancy (1999, translated into Italian), Execution Poems (2001), Blues and Bliss (selected poems, 2009), I & I (2008), Illicit Sonnets (U.K., 2013), Traverse (2015), and Canticles II (MMXX) (2020).


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