Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pain-Body (Part 3): Knowing All Along

James M. Bralley
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I composed "Taking It Like a Man" over twenty years ago, long before I ever heard about pain-bodies.
Still, it is a good example of both the personal and familial pain body:
the pain body I acquired growing up and the pain that I unconsciously inherited.
In this poem I speak as child, adult, and my own ancestor.

When this poem came out of me,
(for that is a fairer description than to say I ever wrote it)
I did not know that during the Civil War both sides of my family sent many sons to war. Nor, did I know the details of their deaths.

In 1860 seven Bralley brothers enlisted in the 45th Virginia Infantry.
Mitchell Carter and Stephen Craig were taken prisoner.
James M. received a gunshot to the spine, laid paralyzed as a prisoner of war, then died.
Sergeant George Bralley was killed leading a charge at the Third Battle of Winchester.

When I first heard the words of this poem rumbling in my mind,
I had not seen the illustration in Harpers Magazine,
nor read the description of the Third Battle of Winchester.
So I did not see the resemblance between the events of 1864 and my own visions,
flashbacks” I would call them, for over twenty years.
Back in 1980, I only knew that I seemed to be suffering PTSD from a war
I never fought.

But, I did know some history.
As my grandfather’s grandfather, John Pierceall Kearfott was something of a family legend. (Maybe you’ve seen the family farm online.)
J.P. rode in Jeb Stewart’s Calvary.
I took a handful of his Civil War bullets to “Show and Tell” in fifth grade and was quite a hit.
Mom had inherited his diary.
Reading that book I felt as if I sat with him in his encampments.
I could feel the bushes nearby, the heat, and the horses stomp the ground.
The diary also described the waiting
as day after day brother his brother Jimmy lay wounded on a cot.
Just after reading that Jimmy seemed a bit better, I was stunned, then haunted by J. P.’s one line entry,
“Jimmy died last night.”

J.P. Kearfott and his farmstead are still in my family’s thoughts.
At Uncle Eddie’s memorial, a couple cousins told of hopes of purchasing the place.
But, it was Kim, who raised the question that no one could address,
Where are the women?”
Even Mom was mute.

Two generations of women (the great-great and the great) have no voice in our collective memory.
Except, perhaps, in this poem I wrote so many lifetimes later.
It seems my heart still carries their grief.
How very familiar it seemed to sit and wait.
How very familiar to know “my boys were dead.”
It seems I have inherited their pain.

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