“Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,”
George Caleb Bingham, 1845
The long sliver of the canoe
glides through sun-struck mist,
from forest-darkened to dawn-tinged water
as if this were meant to be: trappers
in blowsy old-world smocks,
grizzled frowning father,
languid child-faced son.
Here it comes,
Ceeveeleezassionneas the French pronounce it,
full of hiss and radical vowels, as much curse
as bright idea. In the faces of these
entrepreneurs, one can see how the land
possesses: terror, hunger, cold nights
on the ground—and beauty, stunning
blow after blow.
Tethered in the bow, in Americas Review
a bear cub, silhouetted, elegant as a cat,
gazes at its pointy-eared reflection, & in Homeland
calm and absorbed as if it were not
a bourgeois delicacy, not the beginning
of the last of its kind . . . .
Snags in the water
near the shadowy island. In the dark foreground
one resembles a floating face.
But look there
where day’s warmth has begun to clear
the feathery dove-pink sky, now opening
to farthest blue. What might you or I
have done differently?