Karen Skolfield

Boots and Bayonet
September 23, 2018 Skolfield Karen

Boots: Origin > Old English, remedy, fortunate

My platoon a loose group cross-legged
on the ground, boots off, bootblack tins,
the last notes of Taps clearing.

Somewhere a flag folded once and again.
In memory it never rains but smells of rain.
Wool socks, wax smudge, leather.

Eight weeks to callous up, break in boots.
“An instrument of torture used
to crush the leg and foot”

warns the dictionary’s 2nd definition.
The voices of women trade shoeshine tips.
DS does mail call. We pretend not to care.

Names called or not and we tend to our boots.
Herbie’s mom sends cookies to share.
Carson the boot savant, how hers gloss,

then glow, and we admire.
Lean in and it’s a face dark and distorted,
some soldier I’ve never seen.



Bayonet: Origin < from Bayonne, France

Good river, or hill by the river,
the waters known especially
for their sweetness, gentle reeds,
the rocky beds that do not need dredging.
In its most ancient spelling, Baiona,
the feminine, as of women bending
toward the water, raising it up.
Even the work by the river
felt light, skew of shore, children
playing on the rocks.
All light was good light by the river.
Those who know rivers know
how hard it is to be angry
in their presence. If the powder
and projectiles were low, what of it.
Of course there were knives
for the usual things. The butchering
went on, but nearer the town’s center.
Scythes for the wheat.
What came of it was bread
thick-crusted and difficult,
the middle warm and yielding.

Karen Skolfield’s book Battle Dress (W.W. Norton) won the Barnard Women Poets Prize and will be published in fall 2019. Her book Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry, and she is the winner of the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in poetry from The Missouri Review. Skolfield is a U.S. Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.