Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements
Her father and his friends sat near by crosslegged and dumbly smoking . . . . they had moccasins to their feet and large thick blankets hanging from their shoulders;
On a bank lounged the trapper . . . . he was dressed mostly in skins . . . . his luxuriant beard and curls protected his neck,
One hand rested on his rifle . . . . the other hand held firmly the wrist of the red girl,
She had long eyelashes . . . . her head was bare . . . . her coarse straight locks descended upon her voluptuous limbs and reached to her feet.
The “red girl” is America. “Her father and his friends” are silent because they have been forced into a Faustian bargain—and they now have warm blankets and covered feet to show for it. But they have been forced to give away their daughters, their mothers and to surrender the earth, on which they never felt they had a claim in the first place. The “trapper” lounges easily because he has trapped his prize, America itself. Whitman shows us the “trapper’s” hands because they clutch the two means by which America was stolen, the gun and the enslavement of an entire people. When I read this I am reminded, there is a song of America ultimately, that is the bartering of souls and earth, of unholy marriages, like the slave and the cotton gin and earnest commitments to commerce that mean the rending apart of families and the cataclysmic erasure of traditions and legacies. The girl’s limbs are “voluptuous” because America is bountiful. The “trapper” has a Samson-like mane that offers him mystical protection. And how preternatural the white man must have seemed to those who watched them come over the crest of waves and hills to wrest their homes and agency away from them. It is clear: what “the trapper” is not given he will take. He holds on to the girl’s wrist tightly. Ownership.