"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

Before Lexington by Lesley Wheeler

Issue: Spring 2016

 

Unremembered settlements

Vapor stole from the Maury River—
droplets deflecting light—
for longer than you recollect.
Algonquians and Iroquois

hunted in it, voices muffled
by clouds, words dissolved
among other, older words.
Until they sold the right, or

that’s how governors told it.
Fog softened the land,
made it seem kind. Maroons
stealing themselves and their kin

fled to it, from eastern plantations.
Built tree-bough dwellings here
with liberated tools, sowed
salvaged corn, sang in languages

forgotten since by heron and crow.
The river a mercy. The mountains
a shield. Not a pottery shard
remains of them. Not a nail.

Mist assisted when militia came to kill
their leader, forced the others back
through passes in the Blue Ridge.
Then lifted its innocent hands.

Whiteness will not save you.
Warm water lifting into cold air
will always erase. This place,
this shine, wants you to forget.

 

Unremembered settlements

Vapor stole from the Maury River
droplets deflecting light
for longer than you recollect.
Algonquians and Iroquois

hunted in it, voices muffled
by clouds, words dissolved
among other, older words.
Until they sold the right, or

that’s how the governors told it.
Fog softened the land,
made it seem kind. Maroons
stealing themselves and their kin

fled to it, from eastern plantations.
Built tree-bough dwellings here
with liberated tools, sowed
salvaged corn, sang in languages

forgotten since by heron and crow.
The river a mercy. The mountains
a shield. Not a pottery shard
remains of them. Not a nail.

Mist assisted when militia came to kill
their leader, forced the others back
through passes in the Blue Ridge.
Then lifted its innocent hands.

Whiteness will not save you.
Warm water drifting into cold air
will always erase. This place,
this shine, wants you to forget.

 

Unsettled

stolen

deflected

muffled

dissolved

tell

what seemed

mercifully

forgotten:

this shine

remains yours

and mine

by force

erasure

theft


Lesley Wheeler photo

Lesley Wheeler’s newest poetry collection is Radioland; earlier books include Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize, and Heathen. Her poems and essays appear in Ecotone, Crazyhorse, Poet Lore, and other journals. She is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and blogs about poetry at lesleywheeler.org.