Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fort Hamilton, NWT

I can finally turn
the wipers off
keep slewing my muddy
rumpstrung half ton
geared to bull-low
down the few last miles
of soaked clay track
running atop a narrowing ridge
accompanied by silent fireworks
from the atmospheric electrical storm
now to the south
and staticky chamber music
from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
on the tinny speaker in the cab.
Overhead, more dark clouds flail down
from the north,
another fast system
chasing the thunderheads
into Montana,
packing a cutting wind
but scant rain, anymore.

I draw up finally
on the last bluff
get out, and stare down
windcut terraces
on the darkening coulee slope
to the valley floor
just where two rivers fork
and make out my landmarks
mark with my eyes
a brief piece of history,
squared grassy depressions
hinting at foundations,
a long filled-in well,
a blockhouse, barracks
and a burnt log stockade
buried below the surface
by tough bristled prairie
retaking its long birthright.

Nothing of that old fort
to see now
unless someone knows where
to dig to unearth
random square blacksmith spikes
a rare horseshoe
brittling scraps of broken leather harness
broken glass bottles
and poplar charcoal.

But I needn't look hard
even in this deepening twilight
to see the wide wagon ruts
scoured feet deep into the coulee floor
into native prairie grass and clay
over a few years
and abandoned again
more than a century past.

The trailhead was here
lines of a long southbound track
still cut clear,
still obvious
from a high perspective
an oddity
in this windworn landscape.

I half-lope, half-slide
on my walking heels
down the already-drying
pick my way between
patches of low button cactus
until I stand on the valley floor
up to my knees
in a wide rut.
A part of me
distant flashes and twilight
make it easy
to hear
faint whipcracks,
harness creaks
drovers' fluent curses
and for a clear
moment I'm in
a newer land
riding at the tail
of a plodding long bulltrain
cutting new ruts
south to Fort Benton
in the spring,
what it would be like
to kick my boots
against the lowered tailgate
of a tall wagon
with great ironbound wood wheels,
to sit on a high pile of uncured hides
a worn Henry or Spencer carbine
close to hand for meetings
with parties of chance Blackfoot riders
at this same strange giant sky.


5th Muse said...

lovely ...
how many lives have you live, dear coyote?

coyote said...

Many, Muse. Many...

Fingers said...

I don't know if they are alike. I'm a bit spaced out this night.
Mosquitoes have 40 teeth, I read somewhere and also that they live only for a few hours. One just came and killed itself on my palm.

I don't know about the poetic similarities between old wallets and shoes, Coyote.
I do know that Dire Straits makes a fine companion at quarter to four in the morn.

coyote said...

I agree about Dire Straits. But heavens! When is it that you sleep?

Fingers said...

Tooowit tooo
You're supposed to leave my mail in my mailbox, remember?
I sleep anytime now zzzzzzzzzzzz
But do tell me about old wallets and old shoes...


coyote said...

I'll be quiet, for now, I think. Coyote bedtime stories tend toward the howlish.