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So we left early that morning with our rifles slung
To hunt the prairie fowl with shot and to explore
Dubois River, hoping our slow and stealthy tour
Might surprise a bear at dinner. Approaching near,
We fell into a stalk, beneath the rise only to hear
Loud caws from the carcass speckled with crows
Having devoured the meat to bones above the snow.
It was ears, a mask attached to a spine, the thin
Shadow of corpse hanging in the wind to spin
Its yarn of dying for some hungry farmer’s larder.
So we kept our hunt southeastward, a bit farther
From the bottoms where we spotted prairie fowl
On roosting branches, like silhouettes for owl
As we fired one-by-one taking several, and more
At the foot of berry bushes until we both wore
The grouse as Indians might wear feathered capes,
And then continued to trek toward distant shapes
We imagined to be a group of ancient mounds.
The expanse before was wide and not a sound
Was heard as we approached in the field of fire.
Without the ice underfoot, an attack would mire
Down and deepen into failure, yet we strode in
Across the level surface of that pond, frozen
Enough to get us committed far into the middle.
Then, at 400 yards, all broke loose into the riddle
Of children singing “fat piggies,” we in the moat
Up to our thighs, rifles held high, unable to shoot.
The ancients knew well a defense against infantry
Building on ground to weaken an attacking enemy.
For we had to back out, and come around far south
Staying in the prairie stubble, out of the mouth
Of that big frog, to approach the fortification
Of 9 mounds in a round—a haven of protection,
An Indian fortress once encircled with palisades
And whistling wings of two more mounds made
7 feet above the prairie, all having scattered flint
And earthen ware. The safe and flat dry settlement
A clearing, and northward, an immense grave,
A Cahokian woodhenge to rise up and save
Their loved ones in the sacred motion of the sun.
We returned at sunset finding my feet well frozen
Inside my shoes. My slave rubbed them with snow
And wrapped them both and set them low
On the hearth, slowly to prevent the frost bite.
With westerly winds exceedingly cold that night
York brought firewood and plucked two hens.
“This ‘ill help, Massa. With good luck, and then
Hot broth and God ta’ thaw out your feet again.”
*Found and adapted from “Wintering at Camp Dubois,” Vol. 2, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Gary E. Moulton, editor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1986: 153-154.
Mark B. Hamilton considers himself an environmental neostructuralist, working in forms to transform content, adapting from both the Eastern and Western traditions. He is perhaps the only living person to have traced the entire Lewis and Clark route on their time-table, traveling as they did by paddle and pack mule—a 3-year, 8000-mile journey. His new poetry volume, OYO, The Beautiful River (Shanti Arts, 2020) explores the reciprocity between self and the degraded natural world of the Ohio River. Recent poems have appeared in Weber—The Contemporary West, North Dakota Quarterly, Chrysanthemum, The Cider Press Review, Naugatuck River Review, and Stand Magazine, UK. Visit his website for links to his YouTube Channel, “Earth Songs,” and to his previous works.
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