2020 Poetry Contest

A green mound drawing with a faded book in the center with text Every Earthwork Tells a Story

NPS / Tom Engberg

Thank you to everyone who participated in the park’s first poetry contest. It was a fantastic event in a very unique year and we want to congratulate everyone on submitting incredible poems! Here you can read the top six submissions, as judged by our panel. Use the navigation panel below to find a poem by its title.

Come back next year and submit your entry for a chance to be featured on the park’s social media pages and here on the park’s website.



by David Tillis

We are gone now.
None of my people, we who conceived and built these ancient earthworks, now remain;

we are vanished into the everlasting mists which must ultimately envelope all peoples and tribes who live upon this land.

And with us have disappeared also the meaning and sanctity of our ancient temples, some of which yet survive.

You came into this land many years after we had left,

and when you arrived,
no one was here to explain to you the spiritual significance of what we had labored so hard to construct with our own hands.

To you, the places we considered holy were merely inconvenient piles of dirt,

which you recklessly and heedlessly destroyed with your wagons and plows and horses to make room for your own farms and fields.

You did not understand what they meant to those who built them.

Yet, perhaps, in a rather strange fashion, this is our vengeance upon you.

You do not know,

and you can never be certain,

what these ancient earthworks signify.

The knowledge of their significance remains with us,

and we are gone.

From the votive artifacts we left behind in the mounds in which we buried our honored dead,

you can only guess and speculate about our beliefs.

Regarding the purposes for which the earthwork complex s were constructed,

you have no clear idea.

The mysteries of our faith and what once took place here will forever remain hidden from you;

you will never know the unseen facts of our history.

We rest now behind the Great Silence and smile quietly at your ignorance.

This land is yours now; you are now its caretakers.

As we did so long ago,

love it -- respect it -- care for it,
while you are here.

For the time being, it is yours.

But always, -- always -- pause and remember:

This land is sacred...



by Kathleen Burgess

Three--the doe, two spotted young--stand
tense. She does not twitch.

Soon the fawns flick ears and black-edged tails.
They dip to crop the meadow. Once mowed

of goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, reed canary
grass, and thistle, the silage will overwinter cattle.

She stamps a cloven forehoof. Stamps again. I
do not move. Her ears stare like two great eyes.

She blows a loud, hard breath. As one, they leap
for the woods. The racketing of a gravel pit

intrudes-mechanical clangor, squeal of wheel,
clunk and clatter as buckets load.

In the strain of engines, I breathe in
slant light of the forest where thick boards, laid

side to side by boy scouts bridge dry creek runs.
Wood mulch lining the trail softens footfall

into silence. I follow an earthen wall The People
we call Hopewell built to enclose

a constellation of geometric earthworks
and burial mounds. Of the wall's two miles, only

a remnant by the forest pond remains. The pond
reflects, so sunstruck, so earth-green,

that water masks as forest. White umbels
of spreading hedge parsley and purple loosestrife

stalk this shadowy land.
And yet the tiny blue fists of wild ageratum open.

* Blue boneset, wild ageratum, and feverwort are names for Eupatorium peifoliatum, which native peoples have used to reduce fevers, colds, sore throats, to treat arthritis, malaria, pneumonia, and dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, from which the name boneset was likely derived.



by Jack Burgess

Once our time sang wildly in our ears,
as your ears sing now
with wind sounds, and woodpeckers,
and the swift Scioto.

Once we worked in unawareness of you,
as you walk now on our hallowed ground,
unknowing of our tears and sweat,
and what our hearts each held.

We watch you now through a fog of time,
as you stand confused by our designs.
If we could speak in your world
we would say this:

Put down your measuring devices
and open your hearts.
The wind speaks of us,
so does the sky.

Come back when the new moon grazes the trees.
Listen to the frog sounds.
Sit by the mounds.
Build a fire and wait.

There by the ancient place, we shall meet.
You shall know us,
And we shall know you.
These words are true.



by Vicki Pritchard

Crushed diamond stars on sparkling snow,
Hinted pulse of drumming, whispered ancient voices.
The vaulted night sky reflects a staggering vertigo.

With shining tail, Little Dipper anchors his circular show.
Below the high rim, She fills the Earth-Sky,
Her breathing coils, aglow with sparkling lights.

Such a brief switch in time is the Winter Solstice, the hub of Wheel.
Once alive, bound now as effigy, our own Earth Sacred Site.
She is The Great Serpent, engaged in her celestial celebration.



by Mary Ellen Rapp

You left behind a empire,
we destroyed it.
You left behind a legacy,
we defiled it.
You left behind a story,
we rewrote it.
You left behind an ancestry,
we erased it.
Now we wonder who you are.
We struggle to remember your empire.
We struggle to see your legacy.
We struggle to understand your story.
Your ancestors lost their connection, their legacy, and the story.
What is left?



by Donna Steward

Majestic Earth Works
Built by Mound Culture People
Not Space Aliens

Last updated: March 30, 2021

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