Monday, May 31, 2010

A soldier mourns a fallen comrade before the ruins of Richmond, Virginia. Belle Isle, April 1865. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-B815-890.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Sight in Camp

Source: Library of Congress

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. There are many things I'd like to write. Not sure I can. For now, I'll let Walt Whitman do the talking. "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim" is a poem from Whitman's Drum-Taps, a collection of Civil War poetry originally published in May of 1865 and also enshrined within his voluminous Leaves of Grass.


A SIGHT in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just
lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd
hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?

Then to the second I step—and who are you my child and
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?

Then to the third—a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of
beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you—I think this face is the face
of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

For the History-Obsessed

I've been obsessed with the Civil War since I was a little kid. Why? I've come up with various theories at various points, but the simple truth is, I have no idea. There was no life-changing event that I recall, nor did I have any friends, elementary school teachers, or family members who were likewise fixated on this period of American history. I don't even have an ancestor (as far as I know) who participated in the Civil War. So why the obsession?

I have no theories; I've given up on theories. I'd love to hear from fellow history buffs--why is the past so compelling to you? For many of our peers, our preoccupation with history seems nerdy at best, outright weird and alienating at worst. But how many among us have heard a hoarse, whispered voice where there was no mouth to utter, or, one way or another, felt the touch of a vanished hand?

Don't get me wrong, there is no place I'd rather be than right here, and there's no time in which I'd rather be than right now (no, but at the same time I understand those who feel drawn to the past through some sort of escapist mentality. America's current culture seems to waver between a soulless, consumerist mass media-driven plastic made-in-China flag-waving (phew...) and just plain self-hate. At the same time, we've progressed beyond centuries of bigotry and exploitation, though of course we have a hell of a long way to go.

What is my point? Well, I don't really have one. Though I was a history major, I always felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of creating and defending a thesis. Regardless of what position I chose, I always felt part liar. Which I think is why I'm so attracting to poetry and the arts in general--I love paradox.

In other news, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed a bill that will repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which bans openly queer men and women from serving in the nation's armed forces. The measure still needs to be passed by the Senate and be approved by a military study group, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, and President Barack Obama. Still, it represents a significant moment in our nation's history as a major step towards the open admission of gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens into the armed forces. Since queer men and women have been serving in the military since before there was even any concept of "sexual orientation," it's about damn time. Though I will generally try avoid discussing present-day politics on this blog, this is an issue about which I cannot hold my tongue. Peace.

U.S. Sailors, 1944. Charles Fenno Jacobs. Source: National Archives.

Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers - "Ramblin' Blues" (1928)

And Waves Wash the Imprints Off the Sand

Richmond, Virginia, April 1865. Source: Library of Congress.

Hobart Smith - "Wabash Blues"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Welcome to The Vanished Hand. I'm starting with a very broad focus for this blog: art flicking splinters of light into the dark spaces of the past. A jukebox of ghosts. A collage of the old, weird world exposing the avant-garde alchemy of history. My particular interest is American history from the Civil War through the Great Depression, but this will by no means be limited to that. I'm hoping this space will take on a life of its own and dictate its own direction. We'll see.