Monday, April 27, 2009

A month of (Native) poetry #5

April is nearly over, but I have really enjoyed focusing in on Native poetry. I enjoy poetry, and read it somewhat regularly, but almost entirely devoting this month to Native poets, it's given me a new appreciation for the talent and beauty they can produce. In the past, I would only be able to name a few "favorite" Native poets - I now have too many to choose from.

I've also really appreciated the suggestions on books or poets - please keep sending them! I even ordered a few books online that I couldn't find here in town. Because I've actually had to limit what to place here in posts, I am going to take the suggestions of some of the commenters here and continue this beyond National Poetry Month. I think a little variety of Native art can only do some good.

This next one was sent to me just today (thanks Freddie!) and I think I reread it a half dozen times. While I usually tend to "feel" after a good poem, or begin a "long think," this Mary TallMountain poem, though short, did what I usually depend on prose for - made me really visualize something.

The second poem is another by Chief Dan George (I was trying not to repeat poets, but he is one of my favorite poets/authors.) I wasn't originally going to post it - it is incredibly sad to me - but this TallMountain one made me think of the contrast of the two.

The Last Wolf
The last wolf hurried toward me
through the ruined city
and I heard his baying echoes
down the steep smashed warrens
of Montgomery Street and past
the few ruby-crowned highrises
left standing
their lighted elevators useless
Passing the flicking red and green
of traffic signals
baying his way eastward
in the mystery of his wild loping gait
closer the sounds in the deadly night
through clutter and rubble of quiet blocks
I heard his voice ascending the hill
and at last his low whine as he came
floor by empty floor to the room
where I sat in my narrow bed looking west, waiting
I heard him snuffle at the door
and I watched
He trotted across the floor
he laid his long gray muzzle
on the spare white spread
and his eyes burned yellow
his small dotted eyebrows quivered
Yes, I said.
I know what they have done.
- Mary TallMountain
The Wolf Ceremony
I wanted to give something of my past to my grandson.
So I took him into the woods, to a quiet spot. Seated at my feet he listened as I told him of the powers that were given to each creature. He moved not a muscle as I explained how the woods had always provided us with food, homes, comfort, and religion.

He was awed when I related to him how the wolf became our guardian, and when I told him that I would sing the sacred wolf song over him, he was overjoyed.

In my song, I appealed to the wolf to come and preside over us while I would perform the wolf ceremony so that the bondage between my grandson and the wolf would be lifelong.

I sang.
In my voice was the hope that clings to every heartbeat.

I sang.
In my words were the powers I inherited from my forefathers.

I sang.
In my cupped hands lay a spruce seed-- the link to creation.

I sang.
In my eyes sparkled love.
I sang.
And the song floated on the sun's rays from tree to tree.

When I had ended, it was if the whole world listened with us to hear the wolf's reply. We waited a long time but none came. Again I sang, humbly but as invitingly as I could, until my throat ached and my voice gave out.

All of a sudden I realized why no wolves had heard my sacred song. There were none left! My heart filled with tears. I could no longer give my grandson faith in the past, our past.

At last I could whisper to him: "It is finished!" "Can I go home now?" He asked, checking his watch to see if he would still be in time to catch his favorite program on TV. I watched him disappear and wept in silence. All is finished!
- Chief Dan George

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