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Civilization's Price
[Portage, August 2, 2009]

We swim along metaphorically
In oceans of language and names
We can pronounce without understanding
Cocke-pit, Cheape-side, Lord Strange’s Men
Sackerson, battling bruin of the ring,
Termagant, loutish jerk of mysteries,
Elizabethan places and players
Echoes for me of Nimrod camps above
The Straits of Mackinac, English and French
Woven threads of old world cultures brought here
By men of our own language and many more,
Blending them into thick and rich ragout,
From Ironwood west to the eastern Sault,
Ways of life taught down generations,
By folks bent on living wilderness life
A lot of nerve the basic ingredient,
With luck a big part of those who made it,
A place before the bridge, cut off from merely
wandering around just for a quick look.
Called Mackinaw, spelled Mackinack
The name of the famous straits that our state’s
two parts geographically separate
Up till fifty seven, hunters crossed
By ferry with fifty-mile lines
Often waiting twenty four hours to get across,
Sleeping in coups and sedans whilst nipping
Spirits in flat bottles kept under seats,
And knowing this I wonder exactly what
Magnet pulled such men aross the water
Into sleet-spitting skies to spend two long weeks
In poverty and company while snow
Piled up and buck poles bowed with the take.
Camps of tarpaper erected in swamps
And salt blocks left in nearby stumps for porkies
A bribe to gnaw the block and not the camp,
But chew the camp and the deal was void
And porkies made into bristling hats.
In London it wasn’t porks, but rats
That brought severe trevail without fail,
Pestilences that claimed both fit and ill
With no regard for a man’s station or his skill,
Carriers of brown fleas, plague bubonic
Made strong men swoon and weep and flee
Knowing the price of the disease was steep.
Apart by eras and two continents
Nimrods and thespians shared fear of flames
Deadly conflagrations brought by chance
And hunters or actors high on sack
Making a clumsy move to send sparks flying
And once fire caught it went til fuel was spent
The skill to rebuild memories erased
All those gewgaws and props incinerate. 
But came the day a bridge got built, joining
Up with down, bringing civilization
And ultimately railroads and many towns
Making changes in wholesale fashion
Things neither easily seen nor expected,
The end to ways of life so beloved
Life as rich as in Elizabeth’s long reign,
Degradation of virgin wilderness
And undaunted souls of their downstream kin
Spirit of and in wilderness life
Living in camps back in distant sticks
With the Sixteenth century’s ardors
For poaching deer belonging not to kings
But to all of us unnamed, unseen,
The wave of unbending law changed all.


 
 
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