Sunday, April 14, 2019

Lauren Scharhag writes

Tiny Effigies

Fort Walton Mound, FL

I only just learned this mound was here, taking up

less than half a block of busy street lined

with tourist shops and crosswalks, hidden deep

in the shade of live oaks and cabbage palm.

Not at all like the immense earthworks I’ve learned of

in art history classes: ten stories tall, situated over

thousands of acres, platformed and terraced,

or else molded into shapes of great beasts and men,

whose full aspects are visible only to the gods.

This one is a comparatively humble twelve feet,

flat-topped, reduced by time, long abandoned even

when Confederate soldiers made their camp on its apex,

the better to watch for enemy ships.

It was they who dug the bones, recognized

fellow soldiers by their shattered ribcages, the holes

in their skulls; ancient nut and oyster shells

sucked clean by ravenous mouths. Surely they noticed

how little changes in the life-and-death instruments

as they shucked their own meager dinners with a Bowie knife.

Once, a chief or high priest would’ve lived

on top of this mound. What must it have been,

to make your home upon the death knoll? Was it he

who carved the tiny effigies found at the site,

sculpted in the same clay that holds the bodies?

The museum plaques tell so little, though

the artifacts themselves chatter loud their individuality:

distinct head shapes, smiles, beards, pierced ears,

topknots, even masks. Yet how this place teems with tiny life:

mockingbirds and squirrels, scrub lizards,

all building nests, the carpenter ants erecting

their own hills in the green light, where the red buckeye

weeps hard tears.
Show item 7 of 28. Indian Temple Mound and Museum - Fort Walton Beach - Tourism Media
Show item 9 of 28. Indian Temple Mound and Museum - Fort Walton Beach - Tourism Media
Show item 8 of 28. Indian Temple Mound and Museum - Fort Walton Beach - Tourism Media


  1. The Fort Walton Mound was built about 850 by the Pensacola culture which was centered at Bottle Creek, north of Mobile bay to the west. The mound builders there used mostly sand, grit, grog, or combinations of these materials as tempering agents in their pottery, whereas other Pensacola peoples used shell tempering. The mound, which is still 12 ft (3.7 m) high and 223 ft (68 m) wide at the base, served as the ceremonial and political center of the chiefdom and probably the chief's residence. It was also the burial ground of the elites in the society. Several wattle-and-daub buildings once stood on top of the mound, perhaps at different times. By 1500 the mound was abandoned and lay dormant until the area was reinhabited by white settlers in the mid 19th century. During the American Civil War, Confederate soldiers established Camp Walton in 1861 to guard Santa Rosa sound and Choctawhatchee bay; these troops were the 1st excavators of the mound. John Love McKinnon, an officer with the Walton Guards, wrote a "History of Walton County" in which he speculated that the area they dug into was once a charnel house and noted that several human remains were those of large individuals who were probably warriors as indicated by damage to their skulls, thighs, and arms consistent with hacking and blunt force trauma.

  2. Great poem! Very interesting pictures too!


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