Site icon Margaret Coombs

Borderland Vision

She sings hymns in an Appalachian Church while blood, red as geraniums ablaze in the sun, spreads over white walls.  Surrounded by tuneful voices and the organ’s thrum, alone in perceiving this stigmata, she has a vision strange.

Behind her sit white-haired women in polyester dresses.  The smears like the liquid of their labor, messy remnants of childbirth and miscarriage, signify how they fought, on their backs, to bring forth life.  Surviving babes grew into teens, borrowed their parents’ cars for evenings out. Easy to push heavily on the gas pedal and miss a switchback while screaming down the ridge road to town. Tumbling over hemlocks and boulders, beloved youngsters became mangled and still (and so the chill sound of late night sirens became encoded into the town’s nightmares). Parental tears mingle with the scarlet streaks of each child’s pain, manifest on the sanctuary’s pristine partitions.

Near the exit is a young father, a handsome soldier sent to the Persian Gulf, where pesticides and toxic agents crept into his brain (a cunning enemy, dispersed by his own side). Undiagnosed, but mysteriously ailing, his forbearance trickles in carmine rivulets onto the floor’s molding.

Waves of men and women returned from their wars to this sturdy shelter, built on soil that seceded from the southern states. In this borderland, Confederate sympathizers lived on the other side of their allegiance.  Rebels burned the city below. Soot and ash were carried by the wind to this mountaintop with the sound of animal bellows, the crack of timbers, and men’s hoarse shouts.

Those who remember are dead. The seam of resentment weakens with each generation.  The preacher intones the Sunday prayers and neighbors bow their heads.  Her vision clears, the walls come clean, the flow is stanched.  A scarlet stream of struggle abates. Humanity is made from iron blood and beating  heart, though encased in fragile form. And while she contemplates,  a breeze blows from the open door.

Sweet tenderness flows through her.

Let it waft a little more.


from Whitmanthology © 2016 available from

Whitmanthology brings a collection of writings with authors from all over the world inspired by “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster”- MOOC course held by the University of Iowa in 2016. With a “Forward” by Professor Christopher Merrill, the Anthology aims to bring peace and hope in a world filled with war and pain.

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