Mark Anthony Jarman
from “Night March to the Territory”

Some of our men in the company are altered now.

“Unfit for field service,” says the old surgeon. The men are declared insane after our very brief campaign against hostiles.

They are to be returned home by steamer to their families in the rooms, in the soot-dark east. Who knows what awaits these newly created people. What a mad thing a mind is, a humming miracle, a thin baked cracker that can snap, a horse still standing with seven wounds.

On deck I lay cushions of grass for the badly wounded. A huge horse steps on a sleeping man’s skull, his brain pushed, moves, alters shape, and he’s jerking like he’s trying to kick in a new door.

The whistle blows at first light and the steamer swings away from shore, the steamer turns and drifts sideways like a leaf, a life. We tried to wave goodbye to a few of them, but who saw. I’ll never see them again, they disappear into the reaches, their journey, they go back, the other side of big rivers, back to correct flatlands, their quieted world where there are fields fallen to plows, elms in planted rows along brick banks and twin parlours and twirling parasols.

Replacements arrive, green and worried, new recruits walk west to replace the new versions of people we’re shipping east, our product, our traffic in souls, the soldiers made insane, the asylum’s new recruits. Tit for tat. They stare at us like we’re carnival geeks and we laugh at them, spook them a little.

Out here in the Territory there is nothing and everything, what you see is what is here, and what you can’t see. But no fields, no parasols, no mercantile banks.