OF THEE I SING

My ancestors stole your tongue
and left you mute in a world
you could not grasp.
                                           Now
as I search for words of forgiveness
I can find none, for my voice
is clogged with foreign phrases
that once told of your ancestors
who lived amid these rocks.
We schooled you, stealing
your spirit, which whispers to us
as the sun climbs slowly
over the great stone set deep
into the endless desert.
When the wind comes down
from the north, it sings a song
which cuts through our coats
and deeply into our bones.
There is no one who will claim us
when we are plundered for display
in some museum, no one to sing
a blessing to ward off the spirits
that will haunt us into the next life.
The ghosts of your people walk
among us and we can, at last,
hear their whispered entreaties
carried on the wind
deep into the canyon.

FEATHERS

He crouched in the hollow
in the ancient cliff
careful not to disturb
the bones scattered
just in the shadows behind.
He waited patiently
until he heard the sweep
of the great wings
and the mighty bird
alighted on its nest.
He reached out quickly
and plucked two feathers
never more, and pulled back
into the shadows
of his ancestors.
He carried the feathers
bound with a leather strap
close to his heart
to ward off the evil
that swept down
off the Wyoming plains
licking at the Wind River.
He grew old, his once
black hair streaked in gray
and he knew his time
was coming, it would be
a good day to die,
the sun high over
the mountains, his feathers
ready to carry his spirit
to the sky people
to return to the mighty eagle
from whom he had
accepted life.

AWAITING

He strains mightily to hear the sound of a wolf. He knows the voice of coyote well, and here they are ever-present. But wolf is a different creature. He knows coyote will try to take the shape and voice of wolf. But an elder such as he can tell the difference. Wolf is his totem, and each day the man knows he grows closer to death. He wants to speak with wolf one last time, out here, among the sage and jackrabbits. He wants to sit with wolf and stare at the thickening moon and leave the wolf his story to impart to another generation.

GONE

The salmon people
don’t live here anymore
you have moved them
up the river, then inland
so they no longer need to wander.

The salmon
do not swim here anymore
you have dammed the rivers
to draw out their power
and penned the mighty fish
where the river first licks the sea.

The eagle doesn’t
fly here anymore
the great pines
that sat for generations
below his aerie are now
cut into neat supports
on which we hang our walls.

Our children
do not run here anymore
they have moved
to the cities, have gone off
to wars for fighting
is the only job
which they are given.

We have no rivers
we have no salmon
we have no sons, save those
who sleep under neat white stones.
We look for the eagle
a mighty spirit
but he, too, has been claimed
by the others
to decorate their buildings.
We have only our spirit
to guide us and we know
that soon you will claim them too
and leave us as you arrived
to repeat the sad story.