Excerpt: 'Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition'
Still I would abide by the river.
I find it less troublesome
Than the emptiness of these plains
Pressing so upon me.
Empty is one way to put it, another
That they are overfull
But not in keeping with a man.
Too large in both emptiness & fullness
Is what I mean to say.
I have a conception of my soul
Being taken up in their austerity & solitude
To be devoured
By the stars
& I mind it no longer.
My bones will weather as well
In prairie soil as any
& rest better unconsecrated.
What solace it might bring my Mother
To see me church-buried
Is over-mastered by the hypocrisy
Of enduring that unction.
I cannot believe the House of God
More fit to the task
Than this eternity of grass
Nor man nor beast
Would decline this tomb of clouds & wind
For a plain wood coffin
On some muddy hillside in Ohio.
If it is to dust we return
Best to proceed there directly
& more practical.
What weeds may rise through my ribcage
Shall feed some hungry elk or buffalo
As the ribs themselves supply a morsel
To the wolves. Who owns this land
More truly than the bones of the creatures
That layer & constitute it
Whatever the Law of man may say?
The last of the Maha will fade from the earth
Vanquished utterly by the Pawnee
& after the Pawnee the Sioux may perish
& eventually the Kentuckians & Ohioans & C--
I doubt not but my countrymen
Will populate in numbers these fulsome plains
But what untold count
Of years & men, of decades & centuries
What numberless generations will it require
Life by life & skeleton by skeleton
To claim this land from the buffalo?
Who finds this body
Be it known
My name is George Shannon
& I bequeath my remains
To seed this land
With American bones.
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