- “Big Bone Lick,” “Big Talk,” and “Flush”
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Big Bone Lick
At Big Bone Lick the first explorers found skeletons of elephants they said, found ribs of wooly mammoths, tusks. They dug out teeth the size of bricks and skulls of giant bison, beavers. In salty mud licked bare by elk and deer and buffalo and bears for ten millennia, the bones seemed wreckage from a mighty dream, a graveyard from a golden age, or killing ground of titans. Here they saw the ruins of a world survived by its diminutives, where Eden once gave way and shrank to just a regular promised land to fit our deadly, human scale.
When mountains boomed and boomed again returning echoes all along the chain, the Indians said the peaks were talking to each other in the idiom that mountains use across the mighty distances with giant syllables and rests. White hunters feared it might be guns or even cannon natives had somehow acquired to warn them from the better hunting grounds and streams, the blasts as loud as thunder on the clearest days and coldest nights. Geologists would later hold the groans and barks inside the ridge were shelves of massive, restless rock that slipped or dropped far down within the mountains’ guts, a fracture or a crashing at some fault as part [End Page 117] of the tectonic conversation among the continents as old as planet earth or starry birth, the mutter of creation’s work.
A common sight in graveyards in the countryside’s the sunken grave. Though times may vary in each case the average age for graves to cave is roughly half a century. To compensate old folks would curve the dirt in mounds above the site. But after several years the box below gives way and heavy earth subsides, to settle, crush the whole container of remains, the dust of the beloved, as clay unites with clay. And what is seen above in turf ’s a new depression near the stone, a pool of absence filled by rain or snow or blowing leaves until the spot is flush again, until the human is replaced, with hill and wind and planet’s curve.
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Robert Morgan is a poet, novelist, and biographer. His most recent book is Boone: A Biography (2007), winner of the Kentucky Literary Award and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as an honorary degree from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 1971 he has taught at Cornell University, where he is now Kappa Alpha Professor of English.