POETRY Reading: The Corps of Discovery, by L. J. Martin

The Corps of Discovery, by L. J. Martin

A President named Jefferson, he had a big dream.

It would take special men who could act as a team.

Jefferson picked Lewis, Lewis picked friend Clark

From a camp named Dubois, now to make their mark.

You can search for an answer, then find at your feet,

men who’ll not stop till the country’s complete.

Men like cougars, tough, strong, who will live off land,

who’ll work together, forged as a team they’ll stand.

The Louisiana Purchase had doubled the size

but a route to the Pacific now Jefferson’s prize.

The Corp of Discovery was the chosen name,

forty five souls, with luck, destined for fame.

Cook, du Pratz, MacKenzie teased of the goal.

But the route itself was an unknown black hole.

Forty five brave men and a hound named Seaman.

A Newfoundland hound that could be a demon.

A keelboat, two pirogues, packed bow to stern

Flora, fauna, tribes, and route, so much to learn.

Into the unknown, they pushed off from shore.

Forty five and a hound, made up the Corps.

It was May of 1804, and the water ran high.

Up-stream was a feat with death always nigh.

Not long on Big Mo Sergeant Charles Floyd died

Did this foretell of more, many corpsmen cried.

So on they charged, into a muddy roiling river.

Jefferson’s prize, they were determined to deliver.

They reached the great plains, bison, elk and deer,

for many a day hunger pains were nothing to fear.

The first to say no passage were the powerful Sioux,

But the Corps bowed backs and passed on through.

With winter’s first gale built a fort named Mandan,

They survived in good stead losing nary a man.

At Mandan Lewis hired guide Charbonneau.

More important than him was what would accrue.

His young wife Sacagawea, even ripe with child,

would lead the Corps, and help conquer the wild.

An expedition with a young handsome girl,

said peace, where hate and suspicion whirl.

The Mandans taught lessons that eased,

the Corp headed upriver, more than pleased.

Soon with a babe by Clark nicknamed Pomp,

Ahead of the men, she’d continue to stomp.

The captains watched, but continued to doubt,

Alas, Sacajawea, in the lead, matched any scout.

And soon only Charbaneau about whom the worried,

His wife, a treasure, babe on back she scurried.

Lewis stared at the horizon, wondering what he done,

Then forced doubt aside, always into setting sun.

The Mandans proved friends, helpful and kind,

from the boredom of winter, now it was grind.

Now it was sweat, walk, pole, pull and row,

few forces on earth top Spring’s mighty Mo.

Sand bars, log jams, snags say you damn fools,

with strong backs, determination, your only tools.

The good was plains, buffalo, ducks and deer.

The bad was in every way, danger was near.

With flora and fauna they sent the keel boat home.

Now with pirogue and canoes they would roam.

Now to the heart of darkness, the total unknown.

Hope and fear was with them, deep to the bone.

For Lewis, this unknown was a lifelong dream;

country, he said, “beautiful in the extreme.”

Grass belly deep, buff and precious beaver,

walk, paddle, and pull, advance now a fever.

Almost daily a new discovery, flora and fauna,

to explorer Lewis, the plains were nirvana.

West, west, now the Corps a finetuned team.

Now the wide Yellowstone on the left abeam.

But Jefferson instructed follow Mo to the end,

And west was the result, bend after wide bend.

With each discovery, Lewis made careful notes,

Now with iced paddles, charged on in small boats.

From buffalo fat cook made a fine puddin’ dish,

And plenty of wild meat, birds, even fish.

Nice Mandan ladies, plentiful buffalo meat,

Scurvy, syphilis, ailments that must be beat.

Hard winds and dust irritated the men’s eyes,

Still they charged on intent on Jefferson’s prize.

Ahead alone, Private Bratton shot a griz bear,

Arrived at the boats out of breath but not prayer.

A pirogue under sail was attacked by a squall,

filled an inch from the gunnels, about to lose all.

Bailing with kettles they paddled to shore.

Drying precious goods, as Mariwether swore.

Journals, maps, instruments, and equipment,

If destroyed there could be no new shipment.

Calm, collected, maid Sacajawea saved them,

Not first nor last time Corps was proud of the femme.

Upstream, hard labor, they were into the breaks.

Cliffs of bare brown, onward, whatever it takes.

But now, encouraged by Rockies seen far distant,

Driven now by new fervor, a goal more insistent.

The big Mo now rocky, danger near every turn,

Negotiating rough water, a challenging task to learn.

Collecting, gathering samples, much new to science,

Weather, Indians, animals, all showed defiance.

Now white cliffs, Lewis claimed a romantic sight,

Reminiscent of stately buildings in changing light.

Now a cloudy large river flowing in from the north.

The Milk a surprise, one of many, henceforth.

Then another fork, a quandary, both equal in size.

Clark and Lewis, heads together, no else to advise.

After miles of exploration up both equal streams,

Naming north the Marias, on south with the dreams.

Should they be mistaken it was a fearful choice,

but on up the south, captains said, with equal voice.

They decided it propitious to abandon the canoe

And charged on afoot, the path ahead always askew.

Through mud called gumbo, they’d slip, slide and fall.

But hardened by long row and trek, they all stood tall.

A slippery gumbo precipice had Lewis near death,

It seemed new danger near, with every ragged breath.

But birds, robin, thrush, goldfinch, blackbird and wren,

Flatland more beautiful than ever seen by these men.

On up the river they killed four elk, barrels of meat,

for a good long while, the Corps had plenty to eat.

Then glory, a view of the Rockies, covered with snow.

Among all, the belief in their task continued to grow.

And now the great falls, Lewis said, a sight to behold.

Now, afoot, a steep hard climb ahead only foretold.

Lewis prayed for the Shoshoni, and herds of horses,

for across the Rockies they’d know all the courses.

To Lewis’s surprise against all that he’d been told,

It was falls after falls. Again, a spectacle to behold.

His Journal said “pleasingly beautiful, sublimely grand.”

Then he was charged by buffalo, made a brave stand.

Reminded again that in the wild, were constant dangers.

Reminded again, here all the Corps were strangers.

With five falls in the river, it was a great portage.

But thank the lord, good health with food no shortage.

Then the girl, Sacajawea, fell terribly, feverishly ill.

Valuable to the Corps, cure took all of Lewis’s skill.

With a babe to suckle, and the Corps to lead west,

Healthy again, she marched on, babe to her chest.

The portage challenged even hardened Corps men,

toughest trek yet Lewis recorded, on paper with pen.

All this long way, they’d hauled a rigid steel frame,

now to sew a hide cover, a boat, the river to tame.

To his great chagrin, when launched the boat failed,

best laid plans of men, ease of advance curtailed.

Not easily thwarted, a copse of cottonwood found,

trees large enough to carve canoes, safe and sound.

Now the Missouri became three forks, in acclaim,

Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson by Lewis named.

Known to the maid as it was here she was captured,

so close to home no doubt now totally enraptured.

Blessed by the Lord, the chief of the first tribe found

Was Sacajawea’s brother, a coincidence renowned.

With herds of horses, for bobbles willing to trade,

and a guide who knew a route across, they prayed.

Sacajawea had again proved her worth pure gold,

with babe in hand, none of the men were more bold.

But the Rockies ahead proved a formidable test,

lay over the winter, a spot named Traveler’s Rest.

For babbles the Shoshoni’s traded for horses,

and provided a guide who knew mountain courses.

Then the Bitterroots, eleven days of pure hell,

deep snow, horses and men stumbled and fell.

Steep country, deep creeks, rocks, blowing snow,

for the very first time, they feared nowhere to go.

Then the Shoshoni guide came thru, the Lolo trail,

then the Nez Pierce, new horses, they cannot fail.

Ahead the wide Snake, the hope of sound boats,

It must lead to the Pacific, new hope of easy floats.

Now they learned to make canoes by burning,

a short stay, for the wide Pacific new yearning.

The gentle Snake, no hiking ahead, easy floats.

Into the wide Columbia, thank God, new boats.

In places a glorious half mile from side to side,

To the Pacific, kick back, a flat easy ride.

But soon they discovered, wild rapids ahead,

this close to success, they could all be dead.

Falls, short narrows, some dangerous and long,

But good food, good rest, and all were strong.

They portaged, carrying heavy boats around,

again they were convinced, the Pacific bound.

November 7th, 05. Oh joy, tidle changes in view,

And they thought, easy living…if they only knew.

Hostile Indians, constant fog, nights soaking wet,

They hoped rest and food, but now constant fret.

But soon with new vigor they were headed home.

Familiar paths, even then they decided to roam.

Lewis one way, Captain Clark another path,

After all, discovery, sure fame the aftermath.

They met again far down the great Missouri,

Safe, they’d faced the far west in all her fury.

A great adventure, they only lost one man,

only shot one savage, against their plan.

Oh history, the Corps, what an epic story,

for Jefferson and Corps, nationwide glory.

One country, forever, from sea to shining sea,

a country Jefferson, and God meant to be.

Sadly, damn French, brought pox to the west,

Comely lasses and villages brought needed rest.

Clark would be successful, happy and wed.

Soon Lewis, infected, by this own hand dead.

A sad ending for a two-year magnificent tale.

A trek most said was destined, would surely fail.

But a country, forever on, from sea to shining sea.

A country God, and President Jefferson meant to be.

A Corps of Discovery, by Jefferson directed,

A country, for all, Corps and Jefferson perfected.

It matters. Leaders Lewis, Clark, and the Corps,

left a trail, eight thousand miles, none can ignore.

Lewis said when sighting the Pacific, Oh Glory

It’s a tale all should revere, for all a proud story.

They were men, hound, brave lady and baby,

who faced the unknown with hope and a maybe.

So, around the campfire or full supper table,

It’s a true tale to tell, better than any liar’s fable.


Author: poetryfest

Submit your Poetry to the Festival. Three Options: 1) To post. 2) To have performed by an actor 3) To be made into a film.

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