Red Brush Surveyor

Laura Da'

On a survey of the Platte

and Missouri Rivers,

keelboats made from willow branches

and buffalo hide,

braced tight and larded,

           waltz the rough current’s

           white hell

           that topples a flatboat.

           Snagged and sunk

           the year’s profit of furs

           flail into the water.

Crescent watches

the men kicking

their slaves and youngest apprentices

           into the waves.

He wades thigh deep

to pull a boy

up and out of the ebb.

Half drowned and wrapped

in a water logged fur,

the child nearly drags him down

into the river.

He digs his heels

into the sand bed

jerks and hauls

until the boy is

born again on the bank

           from the robe of slick, wet fur.

The men drag the drenched pelt

up the trampled bank

as the boy sputters and quakes.

Anxious to turn his heels

on this scene,

Crescent drops his papers

at the quartermaster’s shack

and rides out early,

cutting north and east.

Bluestem grass and wild rye give way

to the girdled stands of trees

           marking a new township.

Rigs of land

broken in by settlers

rattle past like wooden dominos;

           middle children ever raking away

           at new dirt lawns

           pause in their labor to wave.

In his last bonded year,

the frontier moves

at forty miles an earth spin.

Crescent marks his future striding

beholden to his papers still,

but with the river damp

steaming off his shoulders

and the very tools

for measuring

the skin of the earth

           in his saddlebags.

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