Oregon Trail, Missouri
(November 9, 2016)
O trail up outta here, how long ago
you started to wander, crawling milkweed
through dependence, in grope toward sprawl
dominion. Rather red in your rove from southern transition,
thick of land use, what soft you carved of forest to get through
once dirt and fur and blood of original American and bloody-scrape knuckles
of emigrant pioneer. O what you woke from sleep. Dogwood drift
loud and settling toward expanse, like how a pride’s breath
can move blossom to shiver and roll over false aster, shape
border from its river source, return to river as fat pocketbook, mussel
of critical habit, long breather and muscular foot
under cypress and promise of tree. O path for packed wagon
who dragged black slave alongside conduit, some salt
of new breeze, who swore deciduous freedom, and relented only upon lawsuit
in new land you opened to. O route to burrow, you,
like pipeline, leak the grease of wayward stream. Trade off
and pick off growth in the way. How used, you. When
blue-promised god, some Negroes took up pack and white man’s pack,
and given distance of black body to statehood pith, only made holy
states away. O what became you was over, the leaving grip bragged
all the way to the sea, already plundered and exhausted
of Shoshone patience and homesteading what hellbender
you’ve become. What uprooted clearing. Stray cattle worth
whole encampments in fool’s dust and deed. O what haven from man
who believe in America, only all to himself? Imagine
a way of shape that doesn’t strangle. An arbor
of its very own leaf. Now, imagine
tern and piping plover that keeps expansion
along its shore. A settlement for spring’s deliver, not pipeline.
Imagine redbud staying put in its breeze and keeping us safely
strong as trees and dark as the bark of our open souls. Imagine
the park of evergreen surrender,
to a calmer, blue sky our govern might protect.
Imagine bald eagle again, not because white-headed
but imagine bird, simple body of eager sea, talons
stretched over gold proportion. In summers, thick shiner.
In winter, undisturbed darter along somewhat snow, unstressed
by factory and loud humming fuel. O prairie of blazing star, imagine
full caves of left alone, unraided buffalo
clover, unhelped. Unfringed orchid, unwestern. Imagine
ground hallow, free to forage
its riverine root and plant vigor along the Missouri.
Copyright © 2016 by francine j. harris. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
About this Poem
"I have to admit I picked a difficult location for myself, but ultimately maybe the best for how I think. After many drafts, the entry point for this poem was the afternoon the line 'O trail up outta here' came to me. It was the first moment any of the drafting resulted in something that felt like my voice. My voice—one of contentious wrestling with history and notions of hope, and in recent days of final revision, one coinciding with the election—is here trying to reconcile a history of colonialism and white supremacy in a poem meant to celebrate our parks. Under the administration Missouri has voted to put in office in January, our parks are part of an even more-threatened ecosystem, and so imagining possibility for them feels pretty critical these days, as critical as remembering our history with one another and imagining a way forward."
—francine j. harris
francine j. harris
francine j. harris is the author of play dead (Alice James Books, 2016).
Date Published: 2016-11-22
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/oregon-trail-missouri