David Thompson

Two Shillings and Six Pence

(David Thompson 1770-1857)

This winter’s shade  ‘s so cold and pale

It besets my gaze and arthritic limp

With chills and hunger’s ceaseless laugh

I sit with poverty’s brazen pimp


I sense death’s subtle whisper here

As she smothers all thoughts of present, seeing

No past, no future, no joyful screams

Just drains my life-blood’s present, being


Too weak to cry or beg to feed

Only Charlotte’s love to soothe my fear

To lose all pride and my self esteem

For a morsel’s taste of youth to cheer


Two shillings here and six pence keeps

My life away from some beggar’s fate

How I laugh at such a meager scrip

Of a legacy lost to some scoundrel’s bait


This Judas touch forsakes my warmth

Within this cloak of adventurous tales

While hunger sings its cryptic, sorrowful song

So hauntingly long, so distressingly stale


Yet my hands betray my mind’s ambition

Of an artist’s touch that sowed this land

From the chartless wasteland’s fearsome grasp

To mark and plot from a surveyor’s stand


Dear Philip, you saved such a restless being

With patience you taught this wretched card

From falling so deep in a darkening abyss

With death so close and knocking hard


The heavens await your observer’s touch, you said

So make your mark and claim your stake

Unlock the secrets that our lord has cast

And chart a course for man’s knowledge sake



I observed the cold Prince Rupert lands

That surround the grey vast inland sea

As I tracked the tundra’s hard core frost

And fed my mind’s curiosity


I observed the wasteland’s magnetic strength

That draws one in like a madman’s gaze

And witnessed the great white creature’s feats

These lords of the barrens, of the inland bays


I observed the lands where the muskrat calls

And let the beaver seduce the zealot’s mind

I observed, and marked…ten thousand times marked

And culled the wilderness’ fearsome grind


I observed and marked…ten thousand times… marked

With my dear and dependable friends

I marked the time on my sextant’s arc

And undermined the sun’s eternal bend


I observed and marked ‘cross prairie grass

Stark contrast ‘gainst the granite’s stoic stance

As far away as my eye could see

Just wave upon wave in a dreamlike trance


I observed the rivers that fed a thousand lakes

As their headwaters announced a torrent of spring

I observed the power of the snow pack’s flood

That fed and nourished my soul to sing


I marked the mountains with my measured glimpse

As they dwarfed my being within heaven’s glance

I observed their snow tops blinding strength

Like whitecaps whirled in some frightening dance


I reduced the stars from their heavenly maze

Like magic that masks the mathematician’s skill

Or the illusionist’s trick that traps the ignorant man

To marvel at some sorcerer’s skill


I dreamt of stars to capture thus

With my filtered plates and their golden arc

And hear my mark like some winsome sonnet, ring

And resonate through the superstitious dark


I marked the paths across this special land

Each river, each stream, each mountain pass clear

From Superior’s strength to Columbia’s Bar

With the 49th line in my sextant’s mirror



Yet my great map there in the great hall falls

Like a silent echo of some passionate deed

Observe… deceit in its projection thus

While rotting there with its mold-like seed


But the pain that lives within my heart

Not sorrowful pity or self-loathing disgust

It’s Arrowsmith’s torment, which lingers so

And rips my heart with such subtle thrusts


Just memories now to ease my pain

Such wondrous thoughts that no wealth could bring

 As marvelous dreams of dreams await

On the plains and the foothills, where the mountain streams sing


I’ll embrace death’s call for my observer’s touch

For I made my mark and I claimed my stake

I unlocked the secrets that my Lord did cast

And traced a course for man’s knowledge sake

(c) ShakeyJay 2015