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Prairie Schooner 79.4 (2005) 130-132

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"I am no coward; but I am so strong, [it is] so hard to die.", and: Loss

"I am no coward; but I am so strong, [it is] so hard to die."

– Meriwether Lewis, with self-inflicted pistol wounds; October 11, 1809
April-boastful in 1805 with his rifle,
at first, in contrast to Indian fears,
Lewis soon shudders, writes of a monster

with four-inch talons, a maw of flesh
and fish, 600 pounds of hair and roar,
his heart even in proportion with his outrage

and pale bulk. Attacked, they pursue
their shooters, he discloses, including one
eventually reversed and tracked,

his skull shot twice in a belt of rosebushes.
Hard to die, he says, then, of the gentlemen,
one of whom he meets on June fourteenth,

his gun unloaded, the buffalo standing
before him fat and bleeding from the mouth
and nostrils. Twenty steps away, the grizzly [End Page 130]

startles him, gains on him, and he flees,
alone, waist-deep into water,
his espontoon raised for battle. Why

it retreats is a mystery. Why it retreats
is a mystery Lewis sleeps in,
and vows to be always prepared for returns.


Forget, said the snow
falling again and again
until someone released the poem
into the woods,
or someone neglected to shut
the door,

or it ate a hole through the wall,
or it curled up in the arms
of the thief who stumbled
in the dark, in the snow,
and it fled.
The tracks were lost,

and the people could give nothing
to the dogs for scent.
No one could agree on a description;
the neighbors' search party disbanded
as quickly as it was formed. [End Page 131]

The woman cried
because she could not discern
one wood call from another,
and thus, could not know if it called,
lost and withering, to her;

the man, out in the snow,
could not call it back,
and cried because it could not
discern his voice,
his want, his plainspoken concern.

Forget, said the snow
falling again and again
until the one color seen
from the upstairs window
was yellow,
the grand yellow stucco miles
and hills away,
too jubilant to be a salve.

Linda Jenkins has had poems published in the Nation, 32 Poems, the Greensboro Review, and Pleiades.



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