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Two poems for Gettysburg

Editor's note: Catherine Woodard is a poet and former newspaper and new media journalist. Woodard worked to return Poetry in Motion to the NYC subways and is a board member of the Poetry Society of America.

Gettysburg -- that long, bloody battle in July 1863 is forever seared into the American psyche and continues to draw visitors to its historic field in Pennsylvania. Among them is poet Catherine Woodard, who visited Gettysburg last summer, the 150th anniversary of that decisive Civil War battle.

Catherine Woodard

For the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, she wrote two poems.

Gettysburg

Gen. Daniel Sickles takes his amputated
leg home in a barrel of whiskey. Takes

credit for the Union victory
when Lincoln visits three days later.

    Rep. Sickles (D-NY) works the missing leg
    even better than the one still attached.

    He nominates himself for a Medal of Honor,
    hitched to a bill to hallow Gettysburg

    where he sent 10,000 New York boys --
    against orders -- down from Cemetery Ridge

    to a peach orchard, then out to meet the Rebs.
    On the 150th anniversary of the battle,

    two sweaty brothers squirm on Little Round Top
    in midday sun, oblivious to parents and tour guide.

    They wear blue Union caps, struggle
    to attach plywood bayonets to replica rifles.

    +++

    "To care for him who shall have borne the battle"

    -- Abraham Lincoln, second inaugural address

    Vets back from Iraq or Afghanistan
    still file paper claims.

    They wait hundreds of days
    to find out how much PTSD or lost limbs

    are worth to a country that launches --
    in seconds -- drones half a world away.

    The president,
    reelected by digital data-mining,

    promises to trim the wait --
    by the later years of his second term.

    No date set for VA computers
    to speak the digital language of Defense.

    The second floor sags in a veterans' office
    in North Carolina, blamed partly

    on expanded eligibility for Agent Orange,
    though many decades late. Red twill tape

    once bound the evidence pending review,
    lending a color to complaint.

    Now it's modern manila folders;
    a million vets wait.