“The Lonely Tree,” oil on canvas, by Casper David Friedrich, 1822.

by Kari Gunter-Seymour

We did what we could,
hid the bottles, drove what
was left of him deep
into the yawning hollow,
built a campfire, drank water
from a long-handled gourd
a galvanized bucket.

We set up tents for triage,
counted his breaths, worried
over irregular heartbeats,
sweats, persistent vomiting,
his jacked up adrenal system.

We waited. Listened for a canvas
zipper in the night, each long slow
pull a call to duty, our legs folding
over duct taped camp stools,
tucked tight around the fire,
his gut-fucked stories, stenched
in blood and munitions,
overpowering the woodsmoke’s
curling carbons.

Crows haunched on branches
behind our backs, sentinels,
silent as we wept.
We doused him in creek water,
a sharp sheen of moon over our bones,
recited communions, sang songs
our mothers taught us in the womb,
every neighbor dog and coyote
within earshot barking hill to valley.

Some people think they
don’t deserve to be loved,
every story scratched
into the dirt an ache.
That week, down in the lower forty
we all got born again.
It was hard to say who saved who.

“Saving Sgt. Billings” originally appeared in Cutleaf.

omega man

Kari Gunter-Seymour’s most recent poetry collection is A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award. Her poems appear in Verse Daily, Rattle, The New York Times, and on her website: www.karigunterseymourpoet.com. Her work was selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey to be included in the PBS American Portrait crowdsourced poem, Remix: For My People. She is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak, volumes 1-6. She is Poet Laureate of Ohio.