for the Sadoques family, 2012
“A great and growing interest evinces the eagerness with which
the present generation seek after the particular history of their
ancestors, and the desire they feel of becoming acquainted with
their privations and sufferings, their hardships and dangers, in
transmitting to them the beautiful heritage they now occupy.” - Stephen West Williams, 1853
In a wigwam in Longmeadow
cross-legged on the ground
waiting for her brother to call
while her husband fusses, stitching
glass beads on a tobacco pouch
in dwindling daylight
his back aches
he can smell the tea brewing
he longs for a good pipe
but she refuses to go inside.
Decades removed and worlds apart
Stephen Williams sits
at a maple writing desk
in a comfortable chair
in a fine house
a stone’s throw from the Pocumtuck river
penning an homage to a noble white ancestor
who was redeemed from captivity amongst heathen savages
who returned to a burned village and shattered family
who put down deeper roots
claimed a blood tie to Indian land
and trained up
To the north, in another time
Elizabeth Sadoques is sharing stories
with her daughters
of her beautiful journeys down the long river
she is sheltered by the pines
near the woodshed
the crows flutter and settle on the branches
to listen in.
They are linked by history
by the times ‘twixt 1675 and 1763
by the chaos of the French and Indian Wars
when explorers, colonists, soldiers, missionaries
travelers across distant seas
strangers in strange lands
encountered “primitive” societies,
were struck by fascination
torn by revulsion
driven by greed
and found themselves captivated
by Indian savages.
The Jesuits offered refuge in the north
but when the bloody rains came
Kanienkehake and Wobanakiak
followed familiar rivers southward
answering the grief of women
restraining the hands of men
they resisted slaughtering all
they kept some alive
they re-awakened the spirits of the dead
they washed away the carnage of war
out of suffering and loss
Hundreds were taken captive
prisoners born white
who had chosen to live in someone else’s land
of those who might have been redeemed to their white kin
some chose again
at least two hundred turned away
to embrace a different life
most of them women.
You can tell who they are
the children of these lost ones
they dance in a double rhythm
the old ones sing to them in dreams
their brown eyes are ringed with blue
they are linked to those who never came back
they are linked by those who found
a new way home.
for Bertha Parker Pallan Thurston Cody in 1934, April 2012
She hears a strange bird, she says,
singing outside her window
only at night
unidentifiable, and yet familiar
out of place, and yet close to home
it troubles her sleep
she wishes it gone.
So they drive
one hundred miles to the north
park the truck at Clear Lake
where an old Maidu medicine man camps.
This can be done, he says,
there will be a price
but it can be done.
Bertha Parker nods
as though preparing for a sacrifice.
Recalling James’ protective warmth
Julian’s muscular frame
Jose’s rough hands
and Oscar’s clumsy kiss
and twists the ring on her left hand.
But Old Man says, no,
it is the mother, she must take part.
No healing is possible
without both women.
Beulah Tahamont snorts, sets down her cup
and rises to leave the dusty tent
but the ground is suddenly unstable beneath her
Old Woman steadies her
and she sits back down.
Bertha scoops a handful of tobacco from a store-bought can
and Old Man smiles
this will do, for now.
As instructed, they lie facedown on cornhusk mats.
At dusk, the singing starts in a sonorous rhythm
a drum beats close to the window
the stove-lids rattle.
Old Man’s voice weaves patterns in the darkness
as he seeks out their pain
torn shoulder, scarred knee, twisted hip, broken womb
meticulously locating each
his deft hands pull, from beneath their skin
small white bones
smooth white beads
and a jagged shard of black obsidian
he leans in close,
to make the call of that troublesome bird
for her hearing alone.
Howling winds shake through the tent
and Bertha desperately wishes herself home.
Beulah is crying for a drink
but Old Man keeps shaking that rattle
Old Woman keeps humming
winds are shifting
it is too late to stop.
Two hundred miles to the south and eastward
in the dry Arizona desert
a tall young man digs away at an old mesa house
he stops to lean on his shovel
tips his cap to wipe sweat from his brow
and his leg starts twitching.
He jumps, yelping, as though bit by a scorpion
but no welt appears
it is only a sharp memory
from another time.
in a Maidu camp
as the sun rises
two Abenaki women wake to the smell of strong coffee.
Beulah’s mind is clear
and Bertha is free from pain.
She never again hears that bird.
- From Dreaming Again: Algonkian Poetry
Bowman Books, Greenfield Review Press 2012