Will Barnes

Issue #
September 6, 2013

Bent's Fort

             At night, in the rain, I dream of the sea—drifting in the current
     underwater—only there isn’t any. I’m swimming in the air
where the waves had been, inspecting anemones—golden, green
and brown. Streamers of kelp swing in the breeze. The rocks below,
splayed slick and jagged—amber

             And then, remember this? —the dark-stained railings and
blue walls of the basement in the Museum of History—
and the dioramas in-cut, back-lit framings or holdings of the prairie—
There in the corner: Remember the color of the water?
It’s the Arkansas. Bent’s Old Fort.

             Clear and gold, or—the trapper unloads his skin hoop-boat—
one leg to the shore, leaning forward but holding to the stream, as if he
could not bear to leave this river. Pelts stacked on the bank. I stand
at the glass, at the edge, in the riffling—as if it were moving, as if
the sand at the cut-bank had slipped, and the water—still streaked
and pulling—

            There is a place I have always wanted to stop—Lake Creek
at the base of Independence, east of the pass—and the waters—
tributary to the Arkansas—the gravel beneath almost yellow, granitic—
a place I have always wanted to walk into—

             I know the weight of it against my legs, the small sounds of
moving in the stream, its voices, undoing, untying—
but it is the color

             this melting, or breaking, of something underneath—the light,
braided in, receding, turning down and toward, fingering inward, hued
to gold or olive, or earth, a murkish brown, or rush, but clear,
and darkening

             ––not copper, not rust, or gilt, or sulfur, or honey, but algal,
diatomaceous, fixed to the rock, embedded—

                       this texture beneath the surfaces, this longing, as if the
             speaking were inside, and the story wrapped inside, might be
             worn or spoken or held or opened—as if it did not end—

             as if the story were not an ending, but layered in tongues
speaking and speaking the color, its daily-ness, its intimate now,

                      this place, this bank—its gravelly sides, slipping
             into the stream, and holding, one leg to the shore,
             his face turned to the side, casual—glance—

                      into the sand-cut, its slip, its about-to-slip, and he
             ––handing the skins, across the embankment, holding
             across, reaching and looking to the side, to his right, and
             down, and noticing—

                    the weight of the sand, its soon-to-slip, its edges
         caught in the light, drying

                  having been wetted somehow, and holding
          the boat with his leg against this deepening current, this

                rustling skin-boat, listening back, to the riffling, to the
          story-making, portrayal of, this in-cut, re-make—

                was it rain? summer rain?

             ––as he listens, as it pulls— the light caught
        in the grain—the color—splintered, for a moment—

             gleaming yellow—and the glance inward,
        opening, and the place itself, opening—seeing back—

             slipping into. It is a simple work, a simple

             It is July. Camped at the base of the stage road I wake early.
It has rained hard in the night. I walk upstream. The hillside thick
with monkshood, blue bells and larkspur. The grasses are deep and wet.

             At a fork in the path, or, perhaps it is a crossing, I come to a
new-cut creek-bed—a flood-way. The banks are willow and tall. The
rocks here dry. But it is difficult to walk. The stones shift under my
feet, the cobble loose—granitic, yellow.

             And then I see:

             I am swimming in the air where the waves had been
—suspended—the passage unclear—

             And I do not see, but the light sliding down the flank of the pass,
the night’s rain on the flowers, prismed, pendulant, breathing back

             into the air—and the slow waking of the blue moths, warming
now enough—

             I watch from above as the light enters the water, the yellows
deepening, reaching to the silt and cobble floor beneath—the current
now streaked and golden—streaked and pulling, still—holding to its
green, shadowy banks—

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