THE MISSOURI RIVER BREAKS --for Leonard Peltier, and to my friends at Standing Rock Now, I can begin my apology to the Lakota, as it is my history to do so. All my relatives on a journey to here, safely in a lee of willows bent by the covering sky, My tent a doorway of soft greens and tender grasses— a slanted drum for the rain. River banks curve through moist prairie clumps to fall in great slabs of thick mud and mystery. Beaver tails drop like flat rocks onto the surface of the night and jolt the tingling of stars. Even the nighthawks carry small circles of air in their wings to seed tomorrow’s sky. Far from the mountains a river feels everything passing and knows of its approach. Plovers foraging ahead, extend my vision, improve my judgment: when to cross; when to stay. See how the extravagant birds are claiming the Milky Way as their wild destination? See the meadowlark who brings the sunlight to the river’s edge in its slashing heart? A red-winged blackbird marks all things as its territory in celebration of the night. Let the crest line rise into The People dressed in rugged rock singing the Great Mystery. See how the White Cliffs in buffalo robes are quietly conversing with the wet sandstone? Listen to the ledges where the soft birds go, and to where I’m beginning to understand why: Life becomes a sibling shielded in the shade of river bank and slightly out-of-sight. Each day may seem like three. Winds continue from the east. Birds speak, if you listen. A flycatcher will invite you to lunch at her hidden river crossing where the deer trails intersect. I continue paddling farther into the crystal waters where engineless boats are free to travel. I remain an imperfect guest who may or may not be deaf to sandpipers pecking. They rise and hover up into the starry path, silent above the thunk thunk of paddlers in aluminum canoes. I stay in the cottonwood shade, a grackle floating by on its splayed wings speaking of loneliness. Close enough to have reached out, I might have saved it, if I had not thought him dead. I remain, here as one, in this history, since nothing exists without it. The night keeps riding the scented dark, bending the sage into whispers—into gently moving promises. Water and two pancakes. One day to Virgelle, then Fort Benton. Then, the Great Falls, and rest. Young osprey grow strong atop the old trees, owls in the deep cool beneath a concrete bridge. In front of my tent rabbits nibble on flower stems, while I sit clapping mosquitoes. If I am needed by nature, it is not mentioned, although at night I can hear the hooves in the dry grasses.
Mark B. Hamilton is an environmental neo-structuralist, working in forms to transform content, adapting from Eastern and Western traditions.
His new eco-poetry volume, OYO, The Beautiful River: an environmental narrative, (Shanti Arts, 2020) explores the reciprocity between self, culture, history, and the contemporary environment of the polluted Ohio River. Please see: www.MarkBHamilton.WordPress.com