“Boats on the Rappahannock, Spring 1862” by Jeff Mann


Fraternizing, from the Latin frater, brother.
Tomorrow, perhaps, or next week,
 
our Yankee foes across the river will recommence,
and American slaughter American again,
 
the spring fields grow gore-moist and smoky,
youth upended like canteens of crimson wine.
 
But today—willows along the Rappahannock
a sweet new green—tiny boats made of
 
bark or scrap lumber, fitted with sails,
veer over the breezy expanse between armies,
 
the water fairly dotted with the fairy fleet.
Our ships carry them tobacco; theirs bear us
 
newspapers and coffee. Ah, there he is,
on fate’s far bank, my big blond man in blue,
 
his beard so bushy-grand. He waves and grins,
the handsome vedette I encountered last week
 
in the woods. We sat on a log together, discussing
the accursed conflict, comparing the details of home.
 
We could have settled the war in thirty minutes
had it been left to us. The fur on his forearms was
 
golden, the scent of him brute-musk and orchard-
loam. I might die young in battle; I might die

old in bed. Either departure will be bitter,
for I dread that God’s determined to deny me
 
the bliss of knowing naked such a foe,
tasting such a splendid brother’s lips.


[The italicized phrases come from Bell Irvin Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb,
pages 320-321.]

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Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; six novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, Country, and Insatiable; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent.  With Julia Watts, he co-edited LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia.  The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and four National Leather Association International Literary Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.