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About this Poem 

"I have to admit I picked a difficult location for myself, but ultimately maybe the best for how I think. After many drafts, the entry point for this poem was the afternoon the line 'O trail up outta here' came to me. It was the first moment any of the drafting resulted in something that felt like my voice. My voice—one of contentious wrestling with history and notions of hope, and in recent days of final revision, one coinciding with the election—is here trying to reconcile a history of colonialism and white supremacy in a poem meant to celebrate our parks. Under the administration Missouri has voted to put in office in January, our parks are part of an even more-threatened ecosystem, and so imagining possibility for them feels pretty critical these days, as critical as remembering our history with one another and imagining a way forward."
francine j. harris

 

 

Oregon Trail, Missouri

(November 9, 2016)

 

O trail up outta here, how long ago
            you started to wander, crawling milkweed
through dependence, in grope toward sprawl
            dominion. Rather red in your rove from southern transition,

thick of land use, what soft you carved of forest to get through
            once dirt and fur and blood of original American and bloody-scrape knuckles
of emigrant pioneer. O what you woke from sleep. Dogwood drift
            loud and settling toward expanse, like how a pride’s breath

            can move blossom to shiver and roll over false aster, shape
border from its river source, return to river as fat pocketbook, mussel
            of critical habit, long breather and muscular foot
under cypress and promise of tree. O path for packed wagon

            who dragged black slave alongside conduit, some salt
of new breeze, who swore deciduous freedom, and relented only upon lawsuit
            in new land you opened to. O route to burrow, you,
like pipeline, leak the grease of wayward stream. Trade off

            and pick off growth in the way. How used, you. When
blue-promised god, some Negroes took up pack and white man’s pack,
            and given distance of black body to statehood pith, only made holy
states away. O what became you was over, the leaving grip bragged
 
            all the way to the sea, already plundered and exhausted
of Shoshone patience and homesteading what hellbender
            you’ve become. What uprooted clearing. Stray cattle worth
whole encampments in fool’s dust and deed. O what haven from man

            who believe in America, only all to himself? Imagine

a way of shape that doesn’t strangle. An arbor
            of its very own leaf. Now, imagine
tern and piping plover that keeps expansion
            along its shore. A settlement for spring’s deliver, not pipeline.

Imagine redbud staying put in its breeze and keeping us safely
            strong as trees and dark as the bark of our open souls. Imagine
the park of evergreen surrender,
            to a calmer, blue sky our govern might protect.

Imagine bald eagle again, not because white-headed
            but imagine bird, simple body of eager sea, talons
stretched over gold proportion. In summers, thick shiner.
            In winter, undisturbed darter along somewhat snow, unstressed

by factory and loud humming fuel. O prairie of blazing star, imagine
            full caves of left alone, unraided buffalo
clover, unhelped. Unfringed orchid, unwestern. Imagine
            ground hallow, free to forage

its riverine root and plant vigor along the Missouri.

Copyright © 2016 by francine j. harris. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by francine j. harris. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

francine j. harris

francine j. harris

francine j. harris is the author of play dead (Alice James Books, 2016).

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