Last Inspection of Mount Vernon by George Washington, Gentleman Farmer
Fiction by Karen Craigo
At every turn on the deer path, I drop a serrated pearl.
They’re the breadcrumbs of the breadless and birds eschew them. Barring more snow, this ivory should be easy to spot.
And yes, I said ivory. They were never wood. They’re horse teeth and the purchased teeth of slaves. Elephant ivory. Rhino. All of it affixed to a metal frame that rests in the amphitheater of my jaw.
They cost more than a good man’s house and all his holdings.
I’m feeling my years today. I’m tired. I lost my way in these woods—thought I saw something here, a presence, curious, and I stepped down from my horse and followed it in.
It ran ahead, zigzagged, behind this tree and that, and I drew nearly close enough to touch it, but no—there it was ahead, gray, a shade on the move, but in the dark, and not attached to anybody’s heel.
I did not think it malevolent.
It’s gone now. I thought I heard a rustling, but that was only the sound of rain hitting the canopy. Were it here, I think I’d feel it.
Listen, I know better than most how to find my way. I was a surveyor. Sometimes I feel the elemental pull of the river, and even under clouds I sense the sun. Age has dulled me, though. Deep in, all I see is green so green it’s almost black, shadows that move like shadows are meant to. I unwind my way like you’d key back a clock wound too tightly, but it’s no good—I’m lost here. I’ve passed this sycamore before. This bewildering stone. The brambles grab. Come summer they may be blackberries, or maybe the black raspberries I favor.
First I tore my cravat into strips, tied them to stems of sassafras like surrender flags. Then came the buttons, brass and shell. My greatcoat hangs open, my vest wide, my chest white as table linen.
And now I hold my mouthpiece in my hand, my old friend pain retreating.
Martha will be alarmed. She knows the care I take, my powders and my brush, the pincers the British mocked when they overtook my mail: “I now wish you would send me one of your scrapers, as my teeth stand in need of cleaning, and I have little prospect of being in Philadelphia.”
And again I feel no prospect. I am dug in. This place is all I ever wanted, yet they drew me out like blood into a leech. I fought their wars, presided. I whistled through my fixture when I spoke, and so I spoke little and they thought me wise.
I won’t be drawn again. I will torque myself to this land like a woodscrew to a board.
I drop a molar to mark my place and keep on moving.
© Karen Craigo
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Karen’s interview]
Karen Craigo teaches English in Springfield, Missouri. A poet and essayist, she is the author of the poetry collections No More Milk (Sundress Publications, 2016) and Passing Through Humansville (Sundress Publications, forthcoming 2018), as well as three chapbooks. She is the nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review, and she maintains a blog on writing and creativity called Better View of the Moon.