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Winter in Montana: Lewis’ List

Corrie Williamson

….if it’s very important, it’s very short. If it’s not important, it’s very long. That’s a rule in almost all texts.
-Karl Ove Knausgaard

& indeed Lewis’ list of expedition supplies goes on for pages that begin with 2 Hadley’s Quadrants (for finding the height of sun or star above horizon) & end with eight nests of camp kettles (brass is much preferr’d to Iron). I like to think of him like this, his desk in the swamp of DC, capitol roof half constructed, horseflies clobbering the rafters while he sought to imagine a western winter & all the tools & trinkets that would get him through it, though he could not of course get his brain around such a thing, the Appalachians bellied soft & low by the centuries. Still, in his company came the first fiddle to sing in the Rockies, wood shrunk tight as a fish’s scale-coat, spurring dancing while the temperature lurked at forty below. A cheap portable microscope, he listed, as if Secretary Dearborn might pick one up on his next trip to the District Wal-Mart. Creyons. 500 best Flints. 15 woolen overalls. 30 shirts of Strong linnen. The lakes are freezing, trees spearing the snow with their shadows & despite it all I go on romanticizing that lurch across the continent, first wave of death for those who needed no sextant or chronometer. 2 Vials of Phosforus. 24 Iron Spoons. 1 Sea Grass Hammock. 6 Kegs of 5 Gallons each for making 30 Gallons of rectified spirits such as is used for the Indian trade. Yet he loved those days beyond adventure, beyond compass needle & parallax, never knowing himself better than when he took a knife to a frostbitten toe by starlight. 1 Iron frame Canoe 40 feet long (that sucker sank). 12 oz Opium. & the absurd instrument for measuring made of tape with feet & inches mark’d on it, confined within a circular lethern box of sufficient thickness to admit the width of the tape which has one of its ends confined to an axis of metal passing through the center of the box, around which & within the box it is readily wound by means of a small crank on the outer side of the box which forms a part of the axis, the tape when necessary is drawn out with the same facility & ease with which it is wound up which is quite a way to say, don’t forget the measuring tape because I guess no one had bothered to name the fucking thing yet but he was sure of its necessity. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence. The mandate simple, after all, the goal direct: pass into wildness, measure, & make account.

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In the dream, I am
a broken bird, mired
in dense boughs.
My heartbeat
is everywhere, like
electric current
in the hollow wires
that lace my wings.
I must be fusing
earth to air, am made
of copper, a shining
map whose trails
are glittering veins
of ore. This year
I’ve used a bird
for every metaphor.

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A Prayer in Closing

Above us bats sail the river of dark, quick sense
in the night’s folding blue robe. O the light, going
down, cradled in the moths’ dusty thoraxes

which the bats tuck to their breasts, draw to their teeth.
O the light spools in stacks of hay we pass, mired
in the ponds of fields’ greater light. O the light

warms your tongue where you map it to the scars
on my belly which are also full of light, quick
scraps of a thin flame that leap from fuller fire. O

give us this day, we say, give it, & don’t stop, opening
our reverent, ravenous eyes, our made-for-greed mouths
from which our echoes fly, unfurling fine spruce wings.

Corrie Williamson is the author of Sweet Husk, winner of the 2014 Perugia Press Prize and finalist for the Library of Virginia Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, AGNI, Shenandoah, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Her current manuscript travels between early 19th century Virginia and St. Louis, and modern Montana, where she lives. It is probably called The River Where You Forgot My Name, but it might instead be called Mastodon. There are a lot of large extinct mammals in it, after all. Find her at corriewilliamson.space.