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About this Poem 

"The Indian Stream Republic was real, as well as controversial and short-lived; the poem grew out of things we really saw during a few days in August 2012 exploring Coös County, New Hampshire, best known to many poetry readers as the setting for Robert Frost's 'The Witch of Coös.' The marker and the observed details are in or near Pittsburg, New Hampshire, the northernmost town or village in New Hampshire—between Pittsburg and the Canadian border there are the four Connecticut Lakes, from First Lake to Fourth Lake, and a number of hunting lodges, but no permanent human settlements, so far as I know. The woods are lovely. Historical details, and phrases (in italics) from the Indian Stream Republic constitution, come from Daniel Doan, Indian Stream Republic: Settling a New England Frontier, 1785-1842 (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1997)."
—Stephen Burt

Indian Stream Republic

Stephen Burt

No one should be this alone—
none of the pines
in their prepotent verticals,

none of the unseen
hunters or blundering moose
who might stop by the empty lodge or the lake

as blue as if there had never been people
although there are people: a few
at the general store, and evidence of more

in clean vinyl siding, and down the extended street
a ruddy steel pole the height of a child, its plaque
remembering a place called Liberty

at Indian Stream
, 1832-35,
between the disputed boundaries
of Canada and New Hampshire, meant

as temporary, almost
content to remain its own.
Each household, their constitution said, could possess

one cow, one hog, one gun,
books, bedding and hay, seven sheep and their wool, secure
from attachment for debt no matter the cause.

The state militia came to set them right.
The legerdemain of the noon sun through needles and leaves,
revealing almost nothing, falls across

thin shadows, thin trace of American wheels and hands
for such high soil and such short reward:
the people... do hereby mutually agree

to form themselves into a body politic
by the name of Indian Stream, and in that capacity
to exercise all the powers of a sovereign

till such time as we can ascertain to what
government we properly belong.

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Burt. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 21, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt

A poet, literary critic, and English professor at Harvard University, Stephen Burt is the author of two poetry collections and a number of critical works.

by this poet

poem
Like the Beatles arriving from Britain,
the egret's descent on the pond
takes the reeds and visitors by storm:
it is a reconstructed marsh
environment, the next
best thing to living out your wild life.

                  *

Footbridges love the past.
And like the Roman questioner who learned
"the whole of the