Two Poems


Land rolling and first rate.  thinly timbered with oak
until I enter the prairie.  Sylvester Sibley, Deputy Surveyor

The 13th day of February, 1832.
Cold.  He walks the land
that will be one day ours,
wading through snow, leaning
against a crotch of oak.
to write with frozen fingers,

At 50 chains, Morrison’s house and double-eye furnace
he wrote; about 18 chains east of line
the Horine house and Bowman’s house.

A little to left of line, diggings
almost whole length.
'Delving  for Galena,'  they called it
gouging the earth
in hopes of instant wealth.

Only 180 years ago, but as gone as snow,
as smoke that hung over the valley
from wood-fired smelters.
At night, the coals glowed, like dragon eyes.

Two dollars a section
they paid him for his work. I’d give him that
and more to tell me where the diggings were,
the houses, the furnaces. Only the words are left,
their thin black lines.
Time’s merciful silting thickens over.

Mind of a Stream

I will wander where I please.
Are these
the banks you chose for me?
I like them not.  Perhaps
this year I’ll seep
into the bosom of your prairie
rot the bluestem at its roots; puddle
the trails with quagmire.

In December’s chill I sleep
grave deep
till spring unlocks
my appetite. I rampage, wild and greedy;
gnaw loosening earth, surge
across the gasping fields
drown cottonwoods, erode
the hazelnut and rip it from its niche.

Pausing at the beaver dam 
I am
accomplice in this hydrologic coup,
taking my leisure in scum-mucky ponds,
frog-laced and cattail-speared.
You thought this land was yours? 
Behold the shaper, mud carver, marsh maker;
I sluice your soil and seeds downriver.

I am the crusher of dreams. 

—Alice D'Alessio, Middleton, WI