Two Poems by Mark B. Hamilton


Thick sheets of ice have moved the dark.
I am unwell from yesterday’s ducking.
J. Fields did return, after some risk,
having made his way across the flowing

to report that people do favor
recent surveys by Captain Mackay
of those granted lands told to comprise
a beautiful and bountiful country.

Yet I remain unwell. All day, indisposed.
McNeal and Ordway were lost all night,
the Missouri impassable in thick slabs
like shuffling like cards — a forceful sight.

My servant has kept the fire so hot
the chimney wattle has caught aflame.
I step out to take a meridian altitude
while men pour water into the frame.

Rivers continue to rise. N. Pryor
arrives from Cahokia with letters.
Our Boat, afloat again, in perfect order.
Although I slept but little, I feel better.

With evening rains, all is dry and tight.
Huddling, we cook the rabbits at mess,
the Mississippi still stoppered with ice
but the warming stew a good success.

Still Very Unwell

Today is warm, but I am unwell this mile.
In cold and frost on Mister Hays’ horse,
I have accompanied the gentlemen for awhile
but now return early as I am feeling worse.

The thaw was fair, but winds have increased.
I take doses of medicine, yet remain sick all day.
To Leakens, a thief, who must be discharged
from our Party, I give a small correction of pay.

The wilding wings of fowl pass briefly overhead,
yet I remain unwell. Dubois River is fastly rising,
sufficiently so the Boat leaves its pries, in stead
taken up creek, all though the day is warming.

A map of lines must inhabit those feathery brains.
York attends and keeps the fire, and Mr. Hanley
sends butter and milk in a wagon of Mr. Koehn’s
whose wife asks if she might better comfort me.

Those gliding wings must be the soul. I am sick.
Captain Lewis sends out Shields for walnut bark.
Winser kills a badger. The ice is 11 inches thick.
The rising river has washed away my water mark.

The whistling swans in silence pass like a dream.
The walnut pills do take effect, and I feel better.
A lost Maumee canoe drifts alone downstream,
and news is delivered from Mr. Hay by messenger.

Two invitations have arrived for Balls at St. Louis.
The Missouri River is spewing a slushy reef
in muddy floes to form its half frozen surface.
The geese and swans do gather in a marshy sheaf.

“Unwell” and “Still Very Unwell” are history-based poems, adapted from “Wintering at Camp Dubois,” Vol. 2, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Gary E. Moulton, editor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Mark B. Hamilton considers himself an environmental neo-structuralist, working in forms to transform content, adapting from both the Eastern and Western traditions. His new eco-poetry volume, OYO, The Beautiful River: an environmental narrative in two parts (Shanti Arts, 2020), explores the reciprocity between self, culture, history, and the contemporary environment of the polluted Ohio River. Recent work has appeared in Weber—The Contemporary West, North Dakota Quarterly, Copperfield Quarterly Review, Third Wednesday, and Naugatuck River Review, as well as abroad in Oxford Poetry, and Stand Magazine, UK. You can find him at:

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