I imagine to myself that this is my house
abutting on my small portion of this street
sitting on my small patch of land I pay
the mortgage and the taxes, so I am entitled
to rent this delusion just a bit longer, and
it all works, until I stop and think
But before I got here, long before the man
we bought this house from, and the women
he bought it from before that, long before
this house stood here, or the nursery it replaced,
long before all of that, others lived here, and they
believed their longhouse was communally theirs,
that the land was theirs to hunt and gather
under a precious loan from the Sky Woman
so long as they treated with reverence.
I give up that thought as well when
the birds remind me their feeders are empty.
Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.
He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.
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
turtle rattle shakes
The mountains rise, bluer
blacker than real
against a faded sky.
The ancestors have fled these hills,
no orange eyes stare out of the night,
no voices of the trickster
take up chorus against the stars.
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.