Cape Disappointment, Washington, 2009
One family retraces Lewis and Clark's 1805 arrival at the Pacific
To create the distance a frontier demands.Green hunger splitting the husk of our lives.The husk turned from.To seek out that turning, that distance.To set it loose just to see what it does. To watch it learn to walk.To build a home beside it.With what wood we found.
Through the fog we tail a milk truck painted in puns—The Udder Guys, Dairy Aire—then half a house on a flatbed. You're trying to explain the difference between tension and piecework, a small aggravation inside a larger sadness. Briefly, cut from the fog, a field strewn with mower parts, spools, then a lull of grass, six crooked graves. The half house turns left and we double our speed. [End Page 477]
The river has rose nearly 8 Inches to dayand has every appearance of a tide,from what Cause I can't Say—
When Clark pointed at individual Indians within a group in hopes of learning their names, he kept getting the same answer. A new edition of the journals tells us, in a footnote, the Indians were saying, He is pointing at him. The road to the winter camp the explorers chose for its ready elk is now marked with a yellow sign warning ELK. How they knew they were nearing the sea was not by the river's tide but by the familiar words called out from boats carrying ballast in copper kettles.
Everything they were afraid of that season took root, then fed them through the long spring. Sometimes they'd name a bird twice, three times, tongues lapping the fog. This winter of naming spread and battened in like a quilt: what they remembered and what they kept trying to see. They built the fort out of anger at the constant damp, the wet rolling logs that had frightened them now bound into thick-walled rooms, cut for fire. But whether to trust the first draft, or the third . . . Reading interviews with poets, I notice their answers are longer and smarter than a decade ago. Even though on the page they gather at a kitchen table, tape recorder and cigarettes in front of them, through their smooth and arching syntax it's clear they've actually written out their replies, revised them, rather than hear their own stutter transcribed.
Upstairs my son sings every song he knows, retells whole conversations against the sleep I've laid out. Every day he throws the cup of his words like dice. Like Lewis, who broke a months-long silence to write about a beaver he saw, H. was mesmerized by the one he spotted this morning at the fort. Everything after it either a littler beaver or a bigger one. So an idea is smoothed, built to its socket and tested, rather than the slick log battering the shore until it lodges or splits. Dismal Nitch: the men balanced all night on the turning blackness.
Whether or not there was a bear seems beside the point. When Patrick Gass, one of the explorers, published his journals in 1807—seven years ahead of Lewis and Clark—the in-house illustrator back east etched his best guess of a grizzly: a beautiful, shaggy ten-foot dog with the explorer tiny and trembling in a tree just overhead. [End Page 478]
I don't believe that one thing leads to another. I don't believe Rukeyser, who says choice after choice falls away. I believe in the hung mobile, the tether and each animal's idle spin, its surface the reflection of its surface so that you can't tell which side of the cut board led the scissors, which was belly. Today I drive farther north than the explorers ventured—Clark started up this peninsula but after four miles of what he named Long Beach, declared the beach before him the same as the beach behind him. I drive to the tip, Leadbetter Point. The water on both sides...