“Ancient Mounds” by Mark B. Hamilton

Collins had found the hog, butchered and hung,
so we left early that morning with our rifles slung
to hunt the prairie fowl with shot, and to explore
Dubois River, hoping our slow and stealthy tour
might surprise a bear at dinner. Approaching near
we fell into a stalk, beneath the rise only to hear
loud caws from the carcass speckled with crows
having devoured the shreds to bone. Above the snow
all was ears, a mask attached to a spine, the thin
shadow of corpse hanging in the wind to spin
its yarn of dying for some hungry farmer’s larder.
So we kept our hunt southeastward, a bit farther
from the bottoms where we spotted prairie fowl
on roosting branches, like silhouettes for owl
as we fired one-by-one taking several, and more
at the foot of berry bushes, until we both wore
the grouse as Indians might wear feathered capes.
Continuing our trek toward some distant shapes
we imagined to be a group of ancient mounds,
the expanse in front was wide and not a sound
was heard as we approached in their field of fire.
Without the ice underfoot an attack would mire
down and deepen into failure, yet we strode in
across that level surface of the pond, frozen
enough to get us committed far into the middle.
Then, at 100 yards, all broke loose into a riddle
of children singing “fat piggies,” we in the moat
up to our thighs, rifles held high, unable to shoot.
The ancients knew well a defense against infantry
building on ground to weaken the attacking enemy.
We had to back out, and come far around south,
staying in the prairie stubble, out of the mouth
of that big frog, to approach their fortification
of 9 mounds in a round—a haven of protection,
an Indian fortress once encircled by a palisade
with whistling wings of two more mounds made
7 feet above the prairie. All were scattered with flint
and earthen ware. An entire safe and dry settlement
below a clearing sky. Northward an immense grave,
a Cahokian woodhenge, had once risen up to save
their loved ones by the sacred motion of the sun.
Returning at sunset, I found my feet well frozen
inside my shoes. My slave rubbed them with snow
and wrapped them both, and set them gently low
on the hearth, slowly to prevent the frost bite.
With westerly winds exceedingly cold that night
York brought firewood and plucked two hens.
“This ‘ill help, Massa. With good luck, and then
hot broth and God ta’ thaw out your feet again.”

History-based verse from: The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Vol. 2, “Wintering at Camp Dubois.” Moulton, Gary E., editor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1986: 153-54. (Previously published in About Place Journal)

Mark B. Hamilton is an environmental neo-structuralist, working in forms to transform content, adapting from both the Eastern and Western traditions. His second eco-poetry volume, OYO, The Beautiful River (Shanti Arts, 2020) explores the reciprocity between self, history, and the contemporary environment of the polluted Ohio River.  A third book, Lake, River, Mountain, is forthcoming from the University of Wisconsin, Cornerstone Press, 2023, and a third chapbook, UPSTREAM, will be published by Finishing Line Press, 2024. His recent work has appeared in such journals as: Blue Unicorn, Albatross, and History Magazine, as well as abroad in Urthona Journal, Amethyst Review, and Stand Magazine, UK. Find more of his work at MarkBHamilton.Wordpress.com.

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