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VIN BARRACKS / -
America in shuffling crowds
Pelted high-voiced goodbyes
Upon the ragged troop train.
Muddled sound of partings,
An accent here and there acute,
Popping, sudsy soap-sprays,
A girl's bright dress, a frantic flag.
America, shuffling, clattering
To her high moment—
A swelter of faint calls,
Upraised civilian arms, and then
Curdy floculations of vague color—
Drifted about the boarded station-house,
Upholding it like an ark,
Ever more in the distance. .
L Company drifted crankily down the track,
Entrained in hasty coupled cars
And left there, behind, Democracy,
Slack Democracy on the station boards;
Left America clattering into emotion
And shuffling heterogeneously home.
“Emotional—not spiritual,” one said,
Who, with Company L, saw
A new America somewhere,
Waiting, unknowing the future.
The sheet of the morning Tribune bent
With thin crashing and clutters of sound.
Tight hands held it; its fabric
Rattled in fragile catastrophe.
Sudden figures in the morning Tribune—
Three with sudden, significant being
Among slight marks by thousands
Strewing the page—raised themselves
In lustreless knobs, small, black, metallic,
Above the dim paper breadth.
A man, Woodby, saw three numerals
That rose in dull, significant lumps
From the creaking page of the Tribune.
His own number! carved
Of hard, stupid material they seemed.
Woodby, drafted man, left
His familiar papers, his thesis
On an unfinished and ancient past,
Forever, to learn the cold accuracy
Of near material, of steel, of half-ounce bullets.
Sleep-soaked bodies are pried
Out of the obese night; laziness,
Yearning in porous flesh,
Is squeezed as from a sponge.
Silver tubes lifted upward by young buglers
Spout glistening sound
Upon the murk of early day.
The sounds of first call
Clink and glisten in the early air;
Bright chips of sound tinkle and clash sweetly
Like ice in the dusky water of an urn.
Reveille and the murmur of men—
A murmurous cloud of dusk lifts
From the earthen floor. A murmur
Distant, huge, sweet with Being's joy,
Rises from the awakening thousands
Of earth-born bodies.
The blare of regimental bands
Hoists finally night's curtain
With distant shattering.
The world sweats
In a bedding of throbbing, thick light;
Heat soaks like a bitter oil
Into the texture of being;
Dust steams from the earth
Under the feet of infantry
And coats the air with minute fur.
Along the smothered road men plod
Between silent horizons,
Between thin, yellow borders of the earth
Pressed flat under a burden of light.
Painted, vivid silence
Waits along the desert's rim.
Four hundred yards away— '
A drunken, tawny beast—
Slept across the southward path.
“There shall no soldier go,”
The order was, “beyond
The murky middle of the stream.”
Its drifting slopes
Slid back into sun-hid distance.
Its tawny skin, sleek
With clean aridity,
Lay unpunctured by man's growth.
Four hundred yards away—
A thousand years could sink
Into the gap between this river-bank and that.
His back had the sabre's curve,
Clean sitting on his mount.
His words were winged words, steel-tipped,
Loosed on drab men drilling.
His was the drama of the harpoon
Driving barbed oaths, driving deep
Into drab men drilling
On the battalion parade.
The dynamic of the oath was his,
Its knife energy, its thrust.
At the third battalion Major Fitz
Hurled personality like bitter shrapnel.
“It's an old gun,” the major said,
“But clean—give him excellent;”
And pushed the oil-scrubbed gun
Back on private Freebourne's chest.
“An old gun' Hell, yes!” said Freebourne,
When he tried to turn it in
To the Q. M. for a new one;
“I put two hours a day on it.”
But Freebourne loved its steel;
He never took the other.
Two hours on steel, man's metal,
Till the inner twirl of bore
Carried the light in gleaming gutters