Baraboo Ridge —Bob Schildgen
Down the western slope of the Baraboo Ridge,
blue ghost of ancient mountain
in the Driftless Zone no glacier churned,
in water-carved coulees and hollows in the limestone,
limestone under woods with a memory of the sea
in fossil snails and fish kids cracked from quarries
and boulders borne down by the Chippewa torrent.
Oh all you rivers running down,
cutting down through the ridges,
down through the oak savannah, flow in me, sing in me:
Pecatonica, Maquoketa, Wapsipinnecon,
all rolling down to the Mississippi
where I was born on a boat that rocked in a northern storm.
Rivers crossed, paths crossed:
Jefferson Davis and Lincoln in brigades
to drive Black Hawk’s tribe across the swamps,
cross big bluestem prairie
to the slaughter, when the river ran red with blood
at the mouth of the Bad Axe, blood on the limestone.
The lead-mining colonies and shot-towers
and timber floated downriver lashed in massive rafts.
White pine north-woods timber down the rivers,
and maple and elm and oak of the hills along the rivers
burning in the steamboat engines:
ashes trapped like limestone memory.
I come from you rivers and limestone and thought I’d gone beyond.
Gone beyond the time when farmers named their farms:
Loma Vista, Field Lodge, gone now,
and the prize ears of yellow dent-corn in the glass case
that fell from the shelf and smashed
and fed the mice exploring the cellar.
I heard them skim across the concrete floor
two thousand miles, two hundred months away.