The Missouri River Breaks – a poem by Mark B. Hamilton


			--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:

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