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Contents Page: Jan 1, 2012, vol 7 no 4

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Jeff Streeby

Local Color

At work among the Mandan lodges, Catlin hears ice give way, turns to see 1000 bison drown.

In his grave on the loess bluff, brave Huya-Na straddles his buffalo horse. From her own hill, First Bride looks east. Just upriver, Bruguier's cottonwood cabin has been carefully conserved. Any geography, even one undistinguished as this, may have its layers of trivial incidents sealed up in myth. The Temperance Crusader's memorial at Third and Water wears gradually smooth. Brittle newspapers in archives show his killer, a handsome young brew-master, posed with the smiling jury that has set him free. One by one, all the controversies die of old age. Their famous partisans grow silent and vanish. Generation by generation, passionate souls ripen then disappear. For them, for us, everything sinks into an equal obscurity. The Livestock Exchange, Symphony Hall, the Brewery, Union Station, all are razed. Furniture and fittings of the Chicago House have been sold at auction. The massive sandstone arches of the Davenport Hotel now shelter under their Prairie Gothic grandeur only a failing second-hand store. Beneath the clutter of commonplace incidents, every legend falls. The Expedition passed. A bronze plaque locates their Council Oak, killed by lightning in '72. Gravity has been at work on Floyd's bones for more than 200 years. Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas—isn't that what they say? Nothing is ever memorable enough. In every season, the clay cliff face of Prospect Hill is pocked with swallows' burrows. Year after year, it surrenders its predictable millimeters to wind and rain. The place where the founders stood has long since fallen away. There is nothing for it. Our histories lap over each other, every little denouement just one small bract among many that sheath the long trend. In spite of our collective cleverness, we are bound to forget everything. Our monuments, wherever they rise, anchor nothing more than their own spinning shadows. Words to all the ballads change. Sunsets backlight one dead-end after another. The narrow niche forever emptied of its billion pigeons now fills top-full again with starlings.

In a dry year
fishermen find skulls in sand, odd bones in river dunes.

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