Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

Starved Rock

A Poem

I want to go back to Starved Rock.
I won’t be satisfied until I do.

I won’t be the same until I reenact
The battle between the Ottawa and Illinois.

I won’t be the same until we’ve done it again,
Deployed the desolate and unforgiving

Tactic of surrounding the black
Granite boulder and letting the enemy die

Without shedding a drop.
Only biochemical warfare could be as technically sweet.

It was heaven to climb the rock and have
The entire theater of the dead to myself.

I reenacted the battle a hundred times,
Pacing the battlements alone while the paying

Customers played bridge and cribbage in the lodge,
Drew a cruel sustenance from the groans

And dozed in deep cushions,
Captives of the blaze, the Homeric hearth.

I cradled the ball tight to my armpit like a running back.
Tall men and well-appointed women blanched

When I feigned a pass.
And I, who have always been hungry, refused to eat, and fled the smoky hall.

Too many words had been spilled over the prime rib.
I didn’t refuse to eat because I overempathized with the starved-out tribe;

I refused out of disgust at luxury and gluttony and indifference.
My wife’s the one with the Indian blood.

This time I won’t squander my spirit in a doomed and unvitiate
Attempt to get my stepfather’s attention

For a half-an-hour’s game of catch with the football
To break the tedium of a long fall Illinois afternoon;

I won’t be the only child in a legion of preoccupied adults,
Their minds focused on urgent and important matters

Over which they had no power,       
Like the Cold War and the stock market.

I only consented to spend the four-day weekend at the rock
If we could throw the football around.

There wasn’t another child of nine in sight,
Even from the high perch of the rock itself.

But there wasn’t a moment to be spared from the manic
Intimacies with strangers they must have believed might

Ignite connections, leaven somehow the alien
Air in which they too were strangers….

I want to go back to the black rock of the abandoned
And stare out at the Ottawa tribe as they watch and wait for me to die.

I want to go back in time and engineer an escape—go
Through the crevice that led to the underground passageway,

Just wide enough for a girl to slip through to emerge
On the other side and find the energy within to find

Reinforcements to attack the attackers from behind.
Warp the space-time continuum.

And make it mine.
And have the girl who escapes become the bearer of the tale.

And I won’t be the same until one of the tribes is called: Black Hawk.
And I won’t be the same.