Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Effigy Mounds*


Pink Elephant Motel and Supper Club. Postcard.
We drove on a table of land.
It was actually hollow: Spook
Cave lay beneath us, though we never
Visited. I didn’t want to. You scowled.
I have no regrets. The countryside
Lay dotted with dinner clubs.
They stood like barns in the fields,
Wanting to be loved by couples
In middle age, Lutherans perhaps,
Not the unmarried May-July couple
We were. We found our motel,
The Pink Elephant, and adjoining club,
In a town carved into the steep
And crumbling bluffs of the Mississippi.
To this day I can’t remember the town’s
Name, only how it seemed so small,
Like a model railroad village
With tiny streetlamps,
As if it were settling
Easily into the limestone.
You ordered catfish for dinner
And asked, “Is catfish wild?”
And I remember feeling like a bumpkin
Making love to a July woman that night
(I’m past July myself now)
In that room perched halfway up
The stone bank on a level
With Spook Cave.

The effigy mounds lay very flat in the park,
And who could tell the bear’s shape from
An elephant (the motel’s fiberglass effigy
In the valley offered a far better likeness)?
In a photo you hold a stick
And a small purple crystal, about
To plant it in the bear’s earthen
Heart. In another I lean back
Upon a rail at the park’s precipice,
The Mississippi sliding, unseen, below.

Looking back
On that hollow land, it seems
The caverns we didn’t visit
Somehow echo our laughter.
And perhaps the humans who made
Those mounds knew their spirits
Sank, irretrievable, into the old
Earth. They raised those shallow mounds
In humility, would not raise them
To the treetops. Would not erect
Buildings on their crowns because
For them the holy was not in the sky.
No one will find the desecrating crystal
We buried. No, the spirits were too
Hungry, and ate our middle-class,
New-age rock.

And then, a year later, we’re
Fighting. We’re a thousand miles
From there, from my Midwestern,
Undermined land. We’re breaking up.
I can’t get a job. There are your
Children to think of. And I’m thinking
How spoiled you are, a little girl
With crow’s feet, emerged
From hell. I look back at myself
Reaching for your hair, for anything
To fill myself, wanting you to fill
The spaces that you, an animal
Like any other human being,
Could never fill.

The last night together the
Photographs came out, and you
Wanted me to have them, to remember.
And I remember (save me from remembering)
The picture of you standing
In the opened, lightning-struck
Tree, your hands sloped against
The lips of its wound. And save
Me, again, from the image of
Myself, standing next to the pink
Elephant, leaning on a creature
Only seen in withdrawal. See the
Pride in my eyes in having found
A monument when hunger stopped
and I posed by a being hollow as myself.
And I said, no, you keep the pictures.

Today I know these were pictures
Of our spirits about to descend,
About to enter the place the world
Stands on. You get down there
Through the hollow body of a god,
Of an elephant, of a tree.
I say this now that it is October
And we are nearing rivers of ice
With caves where the catfish swim like
A thousand moons.
Save me from saying that there
One spirit holds another,
And their amethyst hearts
Know no pride, no hunger.

*This refers to a trip to the Effigy Mounds National Monument where figures of animals were landscaped by ancient Americans.

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