A sampling from MARKED MEN

A sampling from MARKED MEN

(Anno Domini 1801)

You should of seen this district in the olden times, afore we cleared
the Iroquois out.
Oquaga, they called it.
Forty-some houses
both sides the river. Chimneys, glass windows, trade-good crockery—
the people still brutes, though not a few called themselves Christians. All
savages, in truth.

They considered all this,
far as the eye goes and more,
their own. So when the Crocketts
began selling tracts up Cherry Valley—
where my own people went first,
thanks to my Father’s hoard
of Spanish silver—the Iroquois
started in killing settlers, those
with deeds and those without.
No respect for civilized contracts!
About then General Washington
was getting his army up
to badger the King’s soldiers
back to England, and our bunch
pretty quick got mustered
into the Fourth Pennsylvania.
The Iroquois misliked the Crocketts
more than the British, and so
became our bitter foes.

Right here was our first skirmish.

We crept through that stand of trees there about dawn. A ways off—
not far from where we sit right now—we spied a young buck
leant up against his longhouse, answering the call. Colonel Butler
signaled us to halt and be quiet.
This was early October, a month
of mild nights here. Scanty leaf-fall. Fat stars. Hoot-owls.
The moon shone like a whetted scythe blade. So quiet
you could hear at a hundred paces that red man’s piss
sizzle in the dirt. Must of drank a barrel of English rum!
the Colonel got a bit tetchy after a time, and made a circle
in the air with his fist, like this—and we cut loose,
swooped on the village, whooping and shooting.
me and Will Sweeney stumbled over that red bastard
face up in the mud, his eyes bald as spoons, fist
still gripped around his pizzle. Like to split
our sides laughing down at him, I swear.

That way, where the river bends—
not a few escaped that way. We could hear
paddles splashing between the pop pop
of our flintlocks.
Sweeney picked off a girl—fifteen,
maybe—out to the middle there.
Waist-up naked.
The shot
took one pap clean off, and over she went. The whole canoe
went over, that girl and four more that looked younger.
But who can tell? Ever last one of ’em’s red-brown and filthy,
horsetail hair stinking of bear grease and foul cook-smoke
and Lord knows what all.
Took us ’til mid-afternoon
to finish the job. We knocked down the longhouses, fired
the granaries—can’t make war when you’re starving!
Sweeney reckoned we torched some two thousand bushels.
A sweaty piece of work it was. Course,
it warn’t all work. Toward sundown we had fun
wiping out them Oquaga cornfields.
Over there,
where you see our own crop’s making now, Sweeney
and me and old Robert Gale—I say old
but he was young then, younger I bet than you (hell,
we was all young then:
Frank Squires,
Jesse Woods, that
Cornelius What’s-his-name
who became a parson:
I can see ’em like yesterday)—thirty or so patriots
mowing down the bone-dry stalks.
Now and then
we’d come across little ones their mothers
had tried to hide, froze up
like hairless rabbits in shallow
grass-strewn dugouts.
We’d stick ’em
and lift ’em up high
on our bayonets.
Hell of a thing—how
they’d twist and wiggle….

You all right?

Oh, no.

Don’t tell me you
feel for ’em….

Here now:
have yourself a swig of this,
straighten you right up.
Best liquor for miles around—
cause the corn we make it from’s Iroquois corn.
I swear, ain’t nothin’ sweeter this side of paradise.


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