Seneca, Missouri—soft wash of casino jangle
seeps through the Pontiac’s cracked window.
The map flutters on the dashboard,
one corner grit-soaked.
Sparse Ozark wash of tawny green.
A herd of buffalo lowing in the side pasture.
Here is the voyage,
conjured homeland to conjured homeland.
No, not that clawed trajectory of the past,
but a fierce conception
that quickens and scrapes inside just the same.
The drive to Ohio will take
eleven hours and forty-eight minutes,
cost one hundred and ninety-five dollars in gas.
Chillicothe—in the subtle semantics
of Shawnee, a tightened fist of connotation:
clan name and principal city,
all human systems working in harmony.
Limpid sashay of corn tassels along the byway.
Historical markers beckon the reader
to plunge an arm into the loam
tweeze with fingers to feel how fecund,
no rocks to bend the ploughshare.
What heirloom fields of Shawnee
corn hum under the crust
beside the carbon of burned council houses?
August wheeze of Bad Axe Creek.
Drought thrusts large boulders jutting up waist-high,
deep grooves in the center
for grinding corn. What is owed
grits in the corners of the mouth.
The plaque on the museum’s door in Xenia extols
a Revolutionary War hero:
The ground on which this council house stands is unstained
with blood and is pure as my heart which wishes
for nothing so much as peace and brotherly love.
Summer school kids mill around the museum.
The teacher introduces the panel of tribal council members
as remnants of the once great Shawnee tribe.
Listless murmur of pencils across paper.
In the front room, a volunteer curator leans over a diorama
anxious to capture the real story
of a Revolutionary War camp.
He stipples red paint onto the sandy ground
simulating the gore of a military flogging,
points with the paintbrush to the next room
where fifty-three letters from 1783 broker captive trades
with the Delaware and Shawnee:
wan shades of ink from blanched olive to cornflower,
blotted in the rough or refined sway of long dead hands
each one made phylum by the promise of whiskey.
Leaving Xenia that evening on an old Shawnee trade route
retraced in concrete: Monlutha’s Town, Wapakoneta,
Blue Jacket’s Town, Mackachack, Wapotomica.
Xenia—the influence of the pollen
upon the form of the fruit.
I want my ink to bellow—
where is this ground unstained with blood?
From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.