Issue Thirty - Summer 2017

Snake

By Matthew Bruce Harrison

Three months gone in the wedding season
and I’d mostly been sticky. I went swimming
in the Snake River in Idaho. Got in it in Oregon
and kept still. The current pushed me back to Idaho. So
I did it again. It was good to be a strange head floating
past kids who wrestled in the shallows and parents
who stared from the shore at indifferent brown hills
not rolling like most hills but bunched in creased
tension as if a giant bald animal about to lift a hind leg
from the water and scratch. The white sign in the ridge
across the river said here three states met, I think,
under the blue flow. The hills were not jump-offable
and the sand was fucking hot, but this was a family trip
and nobody cussed about temperature. A jet boat motored us
in loud ear-swabbing wind and leapt rapids where a hundred
years ago steamboats tugging barrels of whiskey sank.
Chief Joseph forded one spot with all the cattle and horses
of the Nez Perce after a U.S. general rejected his petition
to delay the removal of his tribe from the Wallowa Valley
to less than a square mile of goddamned reservation. Joseph
led his people over the Snake River and midway some cattle
turned back to flee, and when Joseph chased the AWOL stock,
three of his warriors left camp and set fire to the cabins
of white settlers in Hells Canyon. The strain with the Bluecoats
became war. Knowing he could never win, Joseph took his people
through the Bitter Root Mountains for Canada where the Sioux
Chief Sitting Bull resided, but the Bluecoats drove the Nez Perce
back again, again, even to Yellowstone and killed Joseph’s wife
and most everybody and surrounded the exhausted tribe
at the foot of the Bear Paw Mountains, where the Thunder Rolling
Down surrendered. What else? I saw a petroglyph seven thousand years
old: fading hand prints on stone and stick figures walking
across wild land no one claimed. The jet boat U-turned after
sixty-five miles, again passing the Washington—Idaho—Oregon
overlap with the painful beach and volleyball net and sheltered
chairs and the picnic tables where the next bunch of sightseers
would eat ham and turkey sandwiches. We popped a few Buds
and laughed when we got splashed and the covered ride did make
me feel part of a family. Besides, the day was mild and the wedding
still ahead, and it had been a long time since I’d worn my trunks
and waded neck-deep to drift along in foreign water all because
I’d gone somewhere.

Copyright Harrison 2017

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