“Absentee Ballot, Union Camp, 1864” by Michelle Bonczek Evory
Michelle Bonczek Evory is the author of The Art of the Nipple (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2013) and the forthcoming Open SUNY Textbook Naming the Unnamable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations. Her poetry is featured in the 2013 Best New Poets Anthology, is the recipient of the Jane Kenyon Award, the Sherwin W Howard Award, and the Consequence Prize, and has been published in over seventy journals and magazines, including Crazyhorse, cream city review, Green Mountains Review, Orion Magazine, and The Progressive. She holds a PhD from Western Michigan University, an MFA from Eastern Washington University, and an MA from SUNY Brockport. This past summer she and her husband, poet Rob Evory, were the inaugural Artists in Residence at Gettysburg National Military Park. She teaches literature at Western Michigan University and mentors poets at The Poet’s Billow (www.thepoetsbillow.com).
Absentee Ballot, Union Camp, 1864
At sunrise that day we woke to our lieutenant,
his voice low, his tap on our tent’s metal pole.
Drills were postponed and the morning,
silent, glorious with birdsong, the changing
leaves past their peak but holding still
to their branches, was treated as if the war
was over. The bitter scent of coffee
made its way through wood-smoked air,
and each of us was ordered to fetch a pencil
from the cigar box at the door
of the lieutenant’s tent.
I had seen images of the ballots
in newspapers before, the dotted lines
and letters swirling each candidate’s name,
the faces of stately men looking to the hands
of everyday men to make choice. The pencils
smelled of our woods where, as a girl, I’d gather
twigs for my mother’s fire, peel apples for her
thickened butter. Had someone this moment
placed in my palm a warm biscuit spread
with that sweetness, I would not have known where
or when I was. Might have expected my brother,
still alive, to charge from the forest’s dark
and pull my braids. I couldn’t save him.
Waiting in line, I could feel the unseasonal
heat through my wool and when I reached the ballots
stacked like linens upon the table, I licked my fingers
to lift a Republican ticket. I had never voted
and my kind may never vote again, but on that November day,
I signed my brother’s name onto the back of the paper, and
slid my voice into the bread box,
added my ballot, willingly, to the heap.
Poem letterpress printed by hand on 100lb archival card stock measuring 5 1/2″ x 10″ with 2 folds & packaged in an individual sleeve. Numbered edition of 50 copies.