“Battlefields and Greenhouses” by Nancy Jo Allen

            Mathew Brady photographed the Civil War hiring help to develop and print.

Brady had a studied eye for subject matter,  

depth of field, sharp focus, composition,  

and emotion, we all learned. 

I knew him first by his reputation,  

for the fact that his photographs won awards.  

So as war loomed, Mr. Brady  

photographed the young idealistic  

Unionist lads of the North  

for what was—for many—their  

last living portrait.  

He told Mr. Lincoln,  

that a spirit in his feet  

told him to go, and he  

received permission  

to chronicle the war.  

Shutter speeds—being what they were—  

and war—being what it was—  

turned Brady’s eye to the aftermath of battles— 

gruesome as they were— 

and he left the depictions of battles themselves  

to the canvas painters.  

He failed his mission in many ways,  

for he did not document locations, dates,  

or credit the images creators.  

You see, he hired some men— 

his own army of sorts—and equipped them  

with traveling darkrooms.  

Brady put together an exhibition  

in D.C. that brought Antietam home:  

their corpses told the story.  

Americans saw the price of war— 

one they thought would be brief.  

And so, people did what comes natural:  

they did not want to dwell  

on the horror or the truth.  

In the end, the government did not buy  

these inspired visual poems  

seen through a camera lens,  

and scribed on albumin paper  

from glass plates. They told the story— 

like any good poetry— 

through the use of the seen  

and the unseen:  

in the white spaces.


These were sadly beautiful,  

and Brady was bankrupted, so I  

did what I could to help him  

out of his fix and feed his family.  

I bought some of those glass plates.  

He practically gave them away.  

Money is money, food is food,  

and charity is good for the soul. 

The plates became my greenhouse panes  

that trapped moisture that ran like tears  

on droplets of capillary action down the dead  

Unionists and Confederate images onto plants  

below in this their second deaths.  

Instead of feeding fields of wildflowers from below,  

they watered cultivated flowers from above.  

They watered white anemones like the pure spirits  

of the dead. They watered irises—straight and tall,  

heads fallen open flanked with bayonet leaves:  

these fleur-de-lys. They watered platoons of orchids  

too frail to support themselves without wood— 

my personal army, I guess. And the sun  

bleached their images—those plates that held their souls— 

to ghostly faintness until they disappeared.

Copyright © 2022 Nancy Jo Allen

All Rights Reserved

Nancy Jo Allen was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and now lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband Terry and their pup, Jayden. Her first poetry collection, Wrinkles in Time and in Love, is now available through Kelsay Books and Amazon.

Featured Image: a sepia tone of the civil war reenactment, stock image from Unsplash

Editor: Barbara Harris Leonhard

Amazon Best-Selling Author

Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF-Experiments in Fiction, 2022)

Pushcart Nominee, 2022

MasticadoresUSA is open for submissions. Send Submissions to meelosmom@gmail.com

Facebook: Barbara Harris Leonhard /barbara.leonhard

Twitter: @BarbaraLeonhar4

Instagram: @meelosmom123

Linked In: ExtraordinarySunshineWeaver

Mastodon: @BarbaraLeonhard@msdtn.social 

Divider Image: by GDJ on Pixabay

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3 Comentarios Agrega el tuyo

  1. Meelosmom dice:

    Thank you so much, Nancy, for submitting! I’m sure our readers will enjoy learning about this piece of Civil War history. The imagery you spun into this story is stunning! We hope you submit again in the future.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  2. jonicaggiano dice:

    How very sad that no one wanted to view the photographs and that the military would not purchase them. I can’t imagine the process of taking the pictures but the fact that no one was interested makes me sad. I assume this is a true story. This is a beautiful and sad story as war is always heart-breaking. Charity is so important and what a wonderful vivid canvas you paint when you talk about your greenhouse. Your words beautifully describing their part in something that brought you pleasure, growing gorgeous flowers. Congratulations a stunning piece.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  3. Ingrid dice:

    Fascinating! I didn’t realise there were photographs of the American Civil War.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

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