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.