Mississippi heaves; Lewis and Clark drown.
The river eddies its tongue across their bronze chests,
licks Clark’s cleft chin, swallows the tip of an elbow.
I bike under the gateway’s hot gleam.
East, the water drags reflected sky: a surprised blue
between spindly, spit-off trees. Graveyard to the west –
row after lozenged row of hoods popped open,
gapings where engines once hummed.
North, a water treatment plant fumes and a white plaque marks
where nine people once set across the midnight river
to cross a border, sail that invisible line
riding the surface: Missouri slave, Illinois free.
But neither sheriff nor Henry Shaw were men
to lose their goods so easy. They waited
on the other shore, the May night so close
against their faces they might have drowned.
Though no one went under, pistols went off,
shackles on, and bodies dragged back. Whippings
to blood and a mother sold downriver.
all this I carry and all this I ferry and my banks are mud and my banks
are mud and I shine only what the sky gives me your children will come
to my banks of mud and your name not on my tongue and your name not
on their tongues I swallow the stars and I eat your tears and I have all these
years carried this body this body this bank loosened this mud I eat and
I will never and you will never some future swallow and at the end of all this
a gulf and at the end of all this a body so warm I lose myself
in tributary your name as salt this salt a gull a gully a gull a gully
Tamiko Beyer is the author of bough breaks from Meritage Press, and her poems and essays have appeared in DIAGRAM, H_ngm_n, Storyscape and elsewhere. Tamiko is a former Kundiman Fellow and received her M.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis. Find her online at wonderinghome.com.