The Place of the Legless

I am the descendant of many lines of ancestors who helped to form opposing sides of some of the most storied armed conflicts in their history. Both sides of the genocide carried out against the tribal peoples of this continent under the name of Manifest Destiny are present. Both sides of the Norman Invasion of Albion intermingle, as do both sides of the American Civil War that is still being fought. Farther back, the chaos and territorial squabbles after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and on into the Carolingian period and the Early Middle Ages make themselves known as I research back to the beginning of the written records I have been able to find.

On a less-visible level, others in my family’s past were part of many of the conflicts with far-reaching impacts that are left out of or glossed over by the History books. Some of my ancestors family members gave their lives to fight the Enclosure Acts as those laws ripped the people off the land and sent them reeling into the cities and factories at the beginning of the English experience of the Industrial Revolution. Another member of the same family wrote the first Welsh-English dictionary when it was illegal to speak Welsh in some places and would make one a social pariah in many more. Others were members of the nobility who did very well for themselves in the Colonies and at home. Some appeared suddenly on this land after the 1848 revolts in the German states. Others ended up in the same place after fleeing from losing a fight to return Ireland to being ruled by the Irish. There are also doctors and teachers who went to great lengths to avoid carrying a weapon in a war in which they felt they did not want to fight. I feel this is just as hard, and often as dangerous as task as taking up a gun or a spear. Taking a stand against the wars of a nation that claims you is less heralded by History, but no less worthy or remembrance by me.

The one thing they all seem to share from my vantage point is an inability to stand by and do nothing if their principles demanded otherwise. I often actively disagree with the reasons I believe they fought for or the sides they fought on. But enough of them lived through all the battles for me to be here, and for that I am grateful. But what about those who died fighting in the same wars of conquest and territory, but under slightly different circumstances and perhaps with less forethought put into why they joined the fray?

During a recent journey I found a story about them, so I am sharing it here. It is my way of honoring those who have put their lives into service for what they felt were noble causes and of calling for the healing of those who didn’t make it back, even if the cause they died for was not just or noble in any way. I do this because in this time of change I feel it is important to work towards the healing of great wounds, including those we might not want to look at or acknowledge. Many of these are wounds that us or our ancestors have a part in creating, either directly or indirectly. Directly can be by ordering the actions or taking the steps that caused the wound.  Indirectly is by benefiting from the place to live, lifestyle or privilege that was made possible by what was gained through the creation of the wound. As one human whose roots are on both sides of the gash, I seek to draw the bleeding flesh of the past together little by little so that it can grow into a new future that is more healthy and whole than it was before I was born. This is my poem this year for the casualties and survivors of War, for whatever reason it was waged.

 

Floating bodies

Crowd the edges

of my path

 

Watching as I move

behind my antlered guide

No words make sound

 

I am here.

Safe only

by association.

 

The aftermath

of dying screams

left to rot

 

A million desires

given to the name

of Conquest

 

A world made of

Death for unjust cause

in foreign lands

 

Heads turn to face

a wall that stops

10,000 wishes made

 

All hands holding

twisted guns, swords, spears

Shields are broken

 

An eyeless mouth

dull gray teeth of stone

opens wide to chew

 

Cold faces bearded

Clean-shaven

men with empty eyes

 

Heads turn

One body enters

Jaws begin to move

 

Regeneration

in this cauldron

for 1,000 lifetimes

 

No judgement here

It takes so long

to repair what was undone

 

All are welcome

All will be reborn

Many different paths

 

Everyone here died

with a curse in their mouth

for the name of Mother Earth

 

I look at my toes

on a dust-brown path

I see my calves are there

 

None can speak

I hear a calling wish

“Will the door be opened?

 

Will you free us

from floating above

without the touch of Her?

 

Losing our entrails

black and rotten

We have no feet to stand.

 

All of our lives

soldiers bought and sold.

We went unasked

 

Killed in the battles

made by other men.

We are hungry.”

 

A dried-out face

Withered arms hold

Two maces made of bronze

 

“Giving our lives

for wealth and glory.

We are cold.”

 

Brilliant armor

above decaying flesh

the wound of an axe

 

“Waiting forever

for slow oblivion.

Wanting only to go home.”

 

Powerful arms

covered by tattoos

A chest caved in

 

“Our legs belonged.

The rest of us did not.

We are illness.

 

Can you open doors?

Can you change the time

in the Place of the Legless?”

 

The path is long alone

Tears fall on dust

I cannot undo the wall

 

Sometimes to know

Is all there is

A story carried lives

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