May 1991

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Home at Last


Frances B. Richman

Twenty-eight unidentified remains of American soldiers discovered in Ontario, Canada, near the site of the siege of Fort Erie, were returned and interred, 1988, in the U.S. Military Cemetery in Bath, N. Y. Many of the soldiers in the expedition of 1812 had come from this area of New York.
So brave, so proud, we marched through Painted Post
past the four corners with the wooden pole
daubed red like blood, they said, to mark the trail
of tribes that used to live there. After that
the way was all slow going. My new boots
chafed me and blistered. Hot—oh it was hot
with all we had to carry in July!
Canteen and kettle, blanket, squirrel gun
and what we had of loading. I heard tell
they'd issue better muskets, powder, lead,
when we got close to where we'd have to fight,
way off up north and west where two big lakes,
Ontario and Erie, come together.
We knew about the falls. Must be a ford,
barges, some way to get us all across.
Who ever thought York State could be so big?
Swamps, swale grass, rocky ridges, woods,
a river, swamps again. Lakes deep and long
we had to march around. Not so you'd say
we marched like Painted Post! Uphill we crawled
hand over hand. My blanket dropped somewhere
and I was glad. But then at night I froze.
Ben Oughterson got sick. The bloody flux
or some such. Had to leave him at a place
two cabins marked a crossing. Old man swore—
thought it was catching. But the Granny said
she'd nurse him like her own. I hope she did.
Why Canada would want those endless woods
when all they got is woods! And who'd be next
to start with cramps and running, and so white
the sweat stood out like on a greasy plate!
All now so far away and long ago.
Nigh on two hundred years. I guess I got
my wish to die a soldier. All that's left,
some buttons from our uniforms, some bones,
brought back to rest now on this hill in Bath.
© 1991, Frances B. Richman
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