Whitman in the Ward at Chatham

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A water-pail sits beside the bed. Pieces of bloodied muslin fill it to the brim, adding iron to the sweat and rot in the air. The man struggles to breathe, panting his way to no man’s land, a wounded deer with my reflection in his dark, glazed eyes. I charge myself, an acquaintance at best, to stay until the end. I wish for a quick death. There’s nothing to be done; he will die without kith or kin, the ordinary chat and business of the ward continuing indifferently. I will be the sole witness. Moving from Fredericksburg into a realm beyond, he will see another army approach, only to realize it’s a herd of lost sheep too tired to graze, gathered only to bleat half-heartedly.