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Mississippi Panorama

Grunts of the crew

cordelling upriver

go soft through a sandbar.

Sparse lights clot thicker

in the southway flow where a

floating

greenhouse of exotic plants

slips between sleeper trees

and billows the sleek

hum of chartreuse rot.

Crescent’s survey crew pauses

at a bonfire rendezvous

nestled inside of a horseshoe bend

south of

36°35’16: N 89°32’9″ W.

They drink

a newspaper man’s proffered anisette

and listen to his lament

for copy. His panorama painter

nods at an assistant

to unload

slender glass flasks

of linseed oil.

These strangers start wary

spooked by rumors of Yellow Jack

moving down the riverbank,

but the drinks soothe their reserve.

Loquacious and loose,

one man allows

that you can buy inoculations

off the Indian Agents

on the other side of the river

that buffer the disease,

though he doesn’t trust such things

and wouldn’t credit it truly.

The newspaper man confesses

to all who will listen

that he’s bent on fabricating

a story of gruesome atrocity

in the west—a thicket of corpses

to sell to the Eastern papers.

The next morning,

they move to the marrow-searing

flask of rye

and the painter

stretches his canvas on a knoll.

Soul drivers unlash

their flatboats from the floating

cities and shrug their vigilance,

as they round the Kentucky Bend

into the heel of Missouri.

They step to land,

anxious to trade for gulps

of honey brandy

to chase off the milk-sick fly.

They bring a girl.

By the flat-blue hour,

the painter is dead drunk

raving at them

to drag her out

of his line of sight.

He flicks paint

across cinnamon roots

as he lurches,

digs a filthy fingernail

in frustration

across the bottom of the wet canvas.

As he pulls her away,

Crescent misjudges her lightness

his grip slithers around her ankle:

her heel is calloused,

but each toe

still holds a child’s plump

curves and neat nails,

smooth and tidy

as walleye scales.

Her clothes are stained, she smells

like metal;

rusty plumes of bog tannin

leech into the river

in patches

all around them.

A preacher tree

bobs up and down

into the water

baptized in loose silt

of Mississippi relish.

from Poetry Northwest WEBMore by Laura Da’ from the library

Copyright © Laura Da’
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Published in Laura Da' Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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