Martha Vertreace-Doody's Poetry

YORK, 1858

Afternoon tea with my husband, ages ago.
watching vultures glide
                              above New Salem
where they overwinter, circling the furrier's house, as they
taste the smell of flesh
                     scraped from rabbit, coonskin pelts.
Dark wings barely stir the updraft.

No bird is kinder to air.
                              What drives me past this point
of safety, the parlor where neighbors
leave calling cards in a silver tray scattering light on wallpaper?
When the moon traps
frost in the garden, dead stalks
                               crumble next to the bones of sparrows

the stray cat leaves to teach me
                                            the fine art of raising young.

My newborn cringes in candlelight
as if she quit too soon the pool where she swam, mermaid,
Mary Louisa, born in 1832, the year
                               traders float stories on the Missouri
about York who travels with Lewis and Clark, friend to one;

slave to the other. When they set out. my husband
was a child, and I, my mother's dream.
                                           Yet spirit sieves words
like sand across the prairie, like tears falling through sunlight.
York shoots deer, buffalo, geese, elk,
                                          ducks for the cook–fires he feeds
with wood he whipsaws; swims to a sandbar to harvest greens;
trades for provisions along the trail;
                                         votes like the others to choose
a winter camp. Midwife to Sacajawea
in her confinement. he proves himself big beyond his birth,
as much a man as Clark
who says his slave died of cholera,
                                          broken by freedom,
seeking to serve him again.
                               Trappers say the Crow gave York

a tipi, finding their words smooth
on his tongue. If the York River named him, as I've heard,
I should have named the child at my breast
                               Illinois, Mississippi, Sangamon
for rivers healing the prairie bet father served,
seeking to mend a house divided.