Spring 2013, Volume 14

Poetry by Robert Cording

December 17, 1831

I know what he wrote about it,
but this cold morning I’m thinking about
how long it must have taken
de Tocqueville to sort out what he came upon
that morning, the sky a washed-out cloth,
the sun flat-lined along the black and white horizon . . . .
I suppose the Frenchman was looking for words
even then, trying to describe the sound of drums
that had come towards him,
the whinnying of unseen horses, and then
a whole tribe of Choctaw Indians bursting
from the woods, led by Federal agents.

When he swallowed, the freezing December air
must have been a lump in his throat. 
I see blocks of ice swirling in the Mississippi,
following the current’s one way directive,
and an old woman—over a hundred,
de Tocqueville thought—who wanted to stay
right there and die on the only land she’d ever known.
But the Indians, all of them, were politely herded
onto a steamboat, the signal given to push off. 

Writing about that day years later,
it’s the quiet orderliness he remembers first,
the New World he liked to praise
shipping off an older world already here,
but doing so with the reasonableness of law. 
Then his sentences, considered,
full of modifications, turn to the way
the Indians’ dogs, left behind, barked, then howled
and kept on howling long after the boat
had departed, and in his head long after that.





BIO: Robert Cording is the Barrett Professor of creative writing at Holy Cross College; he has published five collections of poems. His most recent book is Walking with Rushkin: Poems