This poem follows directly after Child on the Marsh. Just the page prior, Lanier was a child caught in the sucking embrace of his mother and the earth. Now he is caught in the suck of the earth as wilderness battlefield. The comfort of his mother's breast is replaced by the encouragement of his brother, Clifford, to steal the fresh blue shirt off the dead body of a Union soldier.
He was an Indiana corporal
shot in the thigh when their line broke
in animal disarray...
Consider how much Hudgins accomplishes in these three short lines:
- Lanier is now in battle against a Union enemy
- The Union is losing this battle
- The soldier was shot in the thigh; setting up the coming temptation of the clean blue shirt
- The animals in this poem are not the catfish, snakes, and bees of the marsh; now the animals are men.
Lanier's own shirt is disintegrating on his body. He has been at this a while. Lanier curses his brother's attempts to persuade him to take the shirt. He imagines:
the slack flesh shifting underneath
my hands, the other-person stink
of that man's shirt, so newly his,
Even so, Lanier decides to go back for the shirt only to find that someone else has already beat them to it,
So I had compromised my soul
for nothing I would want to use -
Obviously, this is a critical moment in Lanier's life as Hudgins imagines it. He will come out of this war carrying profound changes. What I like about what Hudgins has
done is he chooses a small, quiet moment on the battlefield -- not an explosion, an amputation, or a moment of stark violence. Hudgins ends:
By autumn, we wore so much blue
we could have passed for New York infantry.