combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2007

The Gallery

      Saturday afternoons we'd go to the museum
      To see the famous collection of paintings of war
      Individually illuminated in gloomy rooms
      The paintings were doors into history
      An infinity of framed images some old some new
      All seeming huge
                we were children then
      Each image was a different war
      A different point of view but
      That was back when everything was new

      The paintings were rich with detail
      We immersed ourselves in the stories
      Played roles within the art
      Became this general or that prince
      Marshalling our regiments
      Dressing our ranks preparing our assaults
      Those paintings were the place we had to play

      And the games were always real
      Surprised by cannon on the flank
      One squadron broke its ranks
      To mill about impotent against grapeshot
      Caught in circular panic
      The horses churned the meadow
      Stallions eyes were huge as moons
      Crazed and frantic animals
      Created chaos while
      Officers inspired a rally
      Of the tattered and dazed
      The colonel sat
      Calm and alert the wounded
      Were mute in their agony

      One painting always made me pause
      To muse on its familiar scene
      A flag and marching men with fifes and drum

      The sky's ominous translucent vault
      Captured the tattered musicians in mid-stride
      The fife corps seemed about
      To step out from the huge painting five
      Grim men and one dazed boy the colors
      Shot torn on a broken staff
      Their regiment disintegrating
      Smoke veiled ranks mown down
      Behind them but loud with pride the flag
      The fifes and drum advanced
      Patriotism imprisoned in acrylic on canvas
      That exhibition made me nod
      And hear the music in my head
      The drum the fife the foot-
                steps of the marching dead

      Perhaps it's just a trick
      But all who saw agreed
      Paint light or point of view
      Made that canvas sometimes seem to cry
      The surface always was certified as dry

      So much has changed
      The world's a different place
      But the museum remains
      A place for rainy Saturdays
      There are so many paintings
      So much for my son to see

      We each have our favorites
      Naval battles always catch my eye
      The play of light on sails
      Shadows across the deck
      Men packed together
      Leather tough sweat soaked
      Groping through the smoke squinting
      Against a sudden glint of sun

      My son is fond of charges
      A cavalry advance
      Can leave him in a trance
      For half an hour examining
      Each lancer memorizing uniforms
      Sometimes he cries
      To see the gallant horses harmed
      But the pictures never loose their charm

      A painting can catch the truth
      After the chaos of battle
      There's so much to set aright
      In that suspended moment
      The artist shows the politics
      Men take with them to war

      The museum made my life a braver place
      With my son I've tried to pass it on
      The paintings open up new worlds
      Snapshots of history painted
      By expert and amateur in those years
      Before chemistry made craft unnecessary

      My son has learned to see each battle
      From different points of view
      Each painting complex with different truths

      I like the panoramas of great fleets
      Heeled to the lee in majestic battle lines
      With this or that part lagging just a bit behind

      He prefers a different room
      He sees the ranks that stand
      Brilliant with bayonets
      He is fascinated by horse
      An expert on artillery
      His devil is details

      In my private fantasy
      There's the admiral by the mast
      Each time the ship rolls
      He comes closer to death
      There's honor in the dying man
      And honor below with the physician's
      Saws and clamps and jars
      Honor and blood are hard to get apart

      A flagship boasts a great supporting cast
      Every quarterdeck's a stage
      The players show the shape
      Of a sad or glorious day

      One reason I prefer this gallery
      Is its dedication to quality
      Besides the details of dress and ordinance
      The light and wind are always right
      The pictures on these walls keep
      The truth of human struggle well in sight

by Jess C. Henderson
... who is educated in creative writing, a former newspaper and trade journal editor, now writing freelance poems and essays; as an amateur historian, he writes the Posted Muster column in this literary magazine. This composition was revised from "Icon", an earlier iteration.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones