En Plein Air
I once saw a woman painting here,
canvas on easel and palette of oils on her arm,
and wondered why she colored
what I thought of as ordinary
as the bottom of my foot (my sole),
as the bottom of an apple that my mother
had washed and brought (a star),
unpeeling from the sinkhole, the river
below. Watch her,
my mother said, and so I circled
round. The woman smiled
at me as if I were a leaf or bird.
You were sleeping when the bear fell from grace
by loving sunflower seeds in wrought iron frames.
She moved from place to place,
filling her mouth again.
How couldn’t you know she was in love, all heavy
with seeds come from the sun, like dark ideas?
What is wrought iron but rules to bend
if hungry, if lonely, if wandering
while the old king slept in dreams he couldn’t explain,
having forgotten her name,
while the queen, jealous again of such wandering,
gave the bear a name to pin her down,
while the moon formed a silver bow
that a boy struggles to pull. He talks to the arrow
like a dog. We were sleeping through all this,
lost. The boy imagines himself
a man of iron, like on the silver screen, power
straight from the heart as all sons dream. The bear
in his line of sight was not a woman with a son
but segments drawn between distant points, an outline
of the crescent moon on her chest. She fell in love
so hard. You know she is so hungry she might die.
Sister niece daughter near limestone that rings,
an uncommon beauty, eloquent, with stars in her ears,
lived at Apple Creek in Chalacasa, named for their home
on the Scioto. The boys wore Missouri lead in their hair.
The Big Muddy from the east and from the west
Apple Creek Rivere de Pomme opened their mouths
on the larger body, the Mississippi. The Absentee
Shawnee moved here to escape the Americans
with the sister niece daughter of the shooting star,
the panther across the sky.
She married but returned by Tecumseh’s word,
away her French husband for a time, mother
of five six twelve one (a daughter, modest).
Chalacasa Chillicothe Chilliticaux stood
in crab apples on the Shawnee Trace between
Cape Girardeau and Ste. Genevieve. Pierre Menard
held his Spanish land claim at the mouth of Apple Creek,
planning to build trade with the Shawnee, who wore
black and vermillion and stars in their ears.
They are rich for Indians, the lieutenant governor says.
It’s not far to St. Louis to corn stalks
to nine-hundred apple trees then 27,000.
Farmers sell off culled apples to make butter
and sow orchards with red clover
dwarf essex rape winter barley cow peas.
The men debate about keeping hogs in the trees:
they drive insects away they pack the ground
they wallow the roots pull apples down.
Sister niece daughter called
Teceikeapease Tecumsapease Genevieve Marie
kept her hair bound like most women in Chalacasa,
on a hill west of Old Appleton not far, I’ve often
passed it, some four hundred Shawnee living near
what bitter rot claims. They went west, every house
deserted…the red-bird perched upon their shrubs and flowers,
no archeological evidence of them being there, Shawnee
houses so much like those of other pioneers
who built on Apple Creek with stars in their ears.