The Beatrice Ravenel Prize
Donald L. Geddes
The projectile arches over the battery wall
the way a woman extends herself,
reaches for the headboard, bending backwards...
and explodes into shrapnel,
hunks of flesh torn from a man left standing, surprised,
holes gaping, large as a fist, a severed arm continues to ache,
a phantom limb reaches out as if to stop the metal rain
pelting the earthworks of Battery Wagner, where he
bleeds out and is left to die.
A relentless ocean forgives a multitude of sins,
easily forgives sins of a century past.
I bear the weight of rusted hunks of iron in a bucket, choosing
fragments no more than an inch-and-a-half thick curved on the
outside, stopping frequently to catch my breath.
Cherry-picking those no bigger than my fist;
I lift them from tidal pools, pick them right off the beach.
Some have oyster shells and barnacles attached.
I’m looking for a dozen or so. I’m not greedy,
anything more would be too much weight.
The larger fragments don’t tumble well in a drum of gravel
slowly freeing rust from base metal,
cured in a bath of linseed oil,
seasoned for months and left to dry.
Shrapnel exchanged for silver dollars in extra-fine condition.
Artifacts sold to tourist as paperweights and keepsakes.
They learn how the projectile arched over Battery Wagner,
unaware of how closely the trajectory follows the curve
of a woman’s back; her lover desecrated by raccoons,
picked over by sea birds and crabs, buried in a mass grave,
bones tumbling in the surf,
slowly freeing sin from man until nothing’s left,
save the shrapnel, a few silver coins bearing the likeness
of a woman, and stars torn from a field of glory.