Elegy for Robert Junkins

By Donald Junkins; published in JFA Newsletter no. 2, Spring 1990

Elegy for Robert Junkins, Captured at Dunbar, 1650; Died at York, Maine, 1699

(At the battle of Dunbar, 8100 Scots were killed or wounded. Of the 3900 prisoners who were force-marched to London, more than half died on the way; the remainder were sent to the coal mines and the salt works or sold into indenture in America. For the march, Cromwell assured their escort, Hesilrigge, Governor of Newcastle, "I know you are a man of business.")

The elms are bones in this salt June wind
and the backs of old headstones bake
under the white and slanting sun. Epitaphs
vanish into air. Brown with blight,
birches rattle obituaries over the skulls of York.

We come as brothers in our thirties,
a Methodist minister and a college English teacher
in our Ford Falcon stationwagon, our rolled white shirts
and our family genealogy, plotting old graveyards
that square the sloping hills of old Scotland Parish
on the Berwick Road. This is York, Maine in 1963. Ten
generations of grass re-claims the sunk and beveled sod;
trees rise; leaves pack in; slates go underground.
We read, "The place of his burial is not of record,"
and stand on stained and crumbly bricks where the
family Garrison loomed for 230 years. Stickweed
and briars gather like names. Further up the hill
a great new home hosts a pack of screaming dogs
leaping to the ends of chains.

We wonder who we are. Across the undergrowth,
heat snakes from the black macadam, and old John
MacIntyre's reconstructed Garrison wavers against the sky.

Down the sloping fields the brown grass beds
and scuffles to the wind, and the Bass River
meanders under dunes of hay. No English soldiers camp
these soft and brine-ruffed slopes; no horses
scream from the gashes of pikes. But the bones that chalk
inside our Scottish skulls blow to the North,
and back.

Robert, forefather, the long silent roaring
of Cromwell's demi-culverins at the Bar of Doon
pounds in your ears no more. And here on this abandoned
knoll of scatterbrush and bricks in southern Maine,
with the Old Parliamentary History in our hands,
we ponder your anonymity
in events where survival was a heroic act.

What are the statistics now? You marched eight days
without food. At the Morpeth gardens you broke rands
to scavenge raw cabbages, leaves and roots;
the men fell away like poisoned bugs.
Dysenteric, sluttish, murderous you marched
to the Bishop's Castle where physicians were sent
to let blood. "Rumors of cruelty were heard."
Robert, in London you were sold for thirty pounds
and shipped to the saw mills of the new world.

We watched the random leaves that drift across the family
plot; this rocky land is inter-boned with slate,
red brick and granite slabs.
A man with a shovel could unearth the grays and reds;
these foundations, graves and falling leaves
withhold the past. What we are is in the earth.
This bright June day, with the wind at our backs,
we walk together to the car,
each carrying an old brick in his hand.

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