Brian Swann

Across the Wide Missouri
November 22, 2020 Swann Brian



It’s toward the end of the season. The girl in the cable-stitch sweater is on her way to feature as Pocahontas in the timeless spaghetti western “The Marriage of the Trapper in the Open Air.” She is talking to the milord who is to play “old yeller hair” and to his lady who will be Sacajawea, complaining of having to be smeared with cochineal. They are waiting at the Missouri as the brass band plays “Shenandoah”. The milord turns to give a group of  locals mocking and loafing on the grass  a V-sign with his right hand and a finger with his left. He will not be trifled with in what he refers to as “these red wastes”. His bride of but a few weeks squints up at the station clock then down the tracks to look for the westbound train, the “gravy train” as the rude mechanicals call it, but the eastbound train comes  first and pulls up in front of the obsolete open-sided crematorium where four bodies are waiting to be boarded, along with a number of crates headed back to Washington filled with all sorts of stuff:  assorted animals, dead and alive, whole and in part, Crow medicine bundles, lightly used, a collection of Ghost Dance shirts and deer-skin dresses stained and pierced with bullet holes, fringed saddle decorations carefully made from pudenda cut out and stretched, along with a few choice tobacco pouches made from savage scrotums, all courtesy of Colonel John Chivington, according to notices nailed to the sides.  Meanwhile, at the other end of town, a young man in a puffy red jacket who had insisted on going to the football game in high heels has encountered some difficulties in a bar and has had to fight his way out, in the process discovering that running in pumps presents its own problems, while in another flashback federal agents are interrogating wedding guests, and in yet another the groom has put Franz Lehar waltzes on the turntable which refuses to turn until he kicks it so everyone in  period costume can begin to dance to the strict time-signature, except for the bride who is dumbly smoking a pipe and sulking because she does not approve of his choice of furrin music. Meanwhile the young man in heels and puffy jacket is still in a state of confusion as he high-tails it out of another bar thinking that all he wants is to be himself. And then the westbound train arrives. People get off, more get on, and the brass band begins to play vigorously so the sound almost drowns out the noise of coming and going on the banks of the wide Missouri, drifting away into the land of “settlement and civilization” where the sun never sets and Ya-honk goes the wild gander.

Brian Swann’s most recent poetry collection is SUNDAY OUT OF NOWHERE: NEW AND SELECT POEMS (Sheep Meadow Press,2018). Other recent books include Companions, Analogies (poetry, Sheep Meadow Press, 2016) and Not the Real Marilyn Monroe (fiction, MadHat Press, 2017) and HUSKANAW, (novel) from MadHat Press, 2022.