Gates of the Mountains

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

its note is not disagreeable though loud –
- Meriwether Lewis, first written description of the magpie

Magpies like the one the Corps
sent back to Monticello
in a cage made of sticks and hide 

swoop from crags, their long
black tails flashing emerald
in sunshafts. Dammed all along 

its path, the Missouri here
languishes pondlike, still enough
for algae’s viscous bloom. 

Once through the high banks
the waters cannot help but narrow,
pale cliffs demanding channel, 

a thread. Only the wind stirs
the surface, the true current
vanquished, though unlike so many 

of his christenings, the name Lewis
gave this place remains - the canyon’s
thick shoulders unchanged, 

cave-riddled, flanked by palisades
of stone. Perhaps some lost note
is held in echo where the cliffs 

fold tightest. But when I call out,
the reply is cold, and far-off:
a shout from a distant room, 

or the call of a bird awakened
from flight-dream and flock
to solitude, to mist-laden eastern light, 

its raspy bark and clattery trill
echoless, and for a thousand miles
the only one of its kind.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015