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.