Amy Beeder

Report of the Chief Astronomer
April 16, 2019 Beeder Amy

Report of The Chief Astronomer
―Upon the survey of the northwest angle of the Boundary Lake of the Woods to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, 1876.

(iii) Sir: Having the honor to transmit herewith
that to the hazards already named regarding
the isolation of these mauvias terres, I add
my men cold-gripped: mute around the Sibley.
Their breath bog-steam through broke ice.

Sleepers awake! To beef sawed
like limestone & a cup
of snow. To vinegar chopped
out of pots with a hatchet.

(vi) Sir: Having the honor to transmit herewith
the details of a fire: sometime after one o’clock
I beheld our tent in flames above my head.
All our efforts to extinguish it were futile:
we heaped the blaze with boughs instead
& I repaired a harness by the light bestowed.

At dawn the spirit thermometer,
fixed to a tree, read
at twenty-three

(xv) Sir: Having the honor to report
another clear night to get the azimuth

& that no more do I feel the cold―
(though for meat little grouse liver,
hot in the paw― )

At intervals a wolf will humbly approach
& start with urgent moan the dogs
who begin gently, a soft collective sigh
then make their trembling crescendo.

(xxi) As my tent floor was composed of ice
my souvenirs apart from one scorched harness
are these two black toes. The next day found us

high above the valley, in delightful weather:
a winter’s Sunday stroll, complete with dogs!
Still at Midnight we were hours short the depot.

Some methods work badly in practice.

Light broke the needles, but cold took the blame

(xxx) the stream whose position even my good scout Jean did not suspect
O Bedrock, brook ice, black hills astir:
I offer my frost face. Polaris, a posy of stars.
my lame foot & zenith, my vanishing trace.

It was romance bore me to this high divide:
the love between Milk River & Saskatchewan
& jealousy between the buttes

[1] from Cree a rough translation: February’s ass—
[2] And the pine pitch froze gold
[3] black thread in a skin quilt, gone―
[4] Jean passe moi ton conteau
[5] Gone, gone―
[6] under snow

Amy Beeder is the author of Burn the Field (CMU Press, 2006) and Now Make An Altar (2012).   A recipient of an NEA Fellowship, a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, James Merrill Residence, Bread Loaf Scholarship, and Witness Writers Award, she has also worked as a creative writer instructor, legal writer, freelance reporter, political asylum specialist, high-school teacher in West Africa, and an election and human rights observer in Haiti and Suriname.