EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

POEMS

by

JENNIFER REESER
   ____________

HIKING OAK CREEK CANYON

          "The talk ... went here and there about the town, dying and
            borning again like a wind or a fire."  
                  (William Faulkner, Light in August, 1932)


My hesitance was clear to him that morning,
appearing over breakfast on the deck
of cedar, as East Pocket was aborning
above our cabin. “You can make the trek,”
he reassured me, with a bracing tongue,
then looped the laces of one hiking boot.

I scrutinized this trail called “AB Young,”
some claim had been the Anasazi’s route
for sure return to summer hunting grounds.

The plateau’s textures brightened by degrees.
Had I not climbed the sacramental mounds,
and braved Chilhowee, at which many freeze?
Without the relic of a doubt; and so,
a painted, Kokopelli ocarina
in my possession – too, the clay tableau
of Birdman with its resin-glazed patina
in mind – yet charier, I acquiesced,
dressed, packed the water, purified and bottled,
(the “Holy Grail” of our impending quest),
to wonder if the lizards would be wattled.

With walking sticks in hand, we crossed the creek.
“The dawn arrives, when I distinguish things
around me!” as it lifts its slender beak,
the Arizona Yaqui nighthawk sings.

PACKING FOR THE PALATKI RUINS

Some character from Christie’s mysteries
Might envy me this preparatory rite,
But fold aside, then hide her jealousies
Beneath these tees and dungarees of white.
An archaeologist loans me his list.
Each item I check off, drop on the pile,
To ask – like any novice nativist –
If there is any unifying style.

Clearly, ruins call for classic style,
A touch of timelessness for mysteries
Once known by the Sinaguan nativist.
Perhaps I’m like some paho* from that rite
By which the builders stacked the sandstone pile.
The luggage holds no room for jealousies.
These pockets are too plentiful to list
In which I stow the blessings stitched with white.

“Palatki” means “red house,” not black, nor white.
The language seems more Czech or Polish style.
What vital items do they fail to list,
Those scientists of sunlit mysteries?
For cold, there’s blue, and green for jealousies.
Sedona’s paint will stain a nativist –
Yet white silk after linen white, I pile,
One fleet moon past June’s first-of-summer rite.

This choosing of the cloth – reflective rite
Though it may be, selecting only white –
Mosquito scarf afloat above the pile,
It strikes me as the standard for the style
Best-fitting the explorer nativist.
I cross a floss-white sweatband off the list,
Like calico that covers jealousies
Of characters in murder mysteries.

Desiring no attire mysteries
Once we arrive, embark upon our rite
Of passage, fleeing petty jealousies
And spite – for we, of course, are wearing white –
A line is drawn through “dress,” last on my list.
My rayon sheath lies draped atop the pile –
To study the archaic nativist
Who perished, with the pueblo out-of-style.

No, white is not the hue for mysteries;
Although its style complements the rite
Of nativist observance. Jealousies
Turn white, burned on the pile so high, they list.

         *paho – Native American Indian prayer stick


IN RED HOUSE CLIFF

In Red House Cliff
A child has taught her spider pet
To spin.

Coyote squatters on the plain,
Who quash the gracile, strained shin
And the bone,

I am alone within this den,
My love upon the mesa’s glyph.
Make the whiptail shake the sage bush, then.

The prickly-pear beside these ruins spy
Out of one eye – a comic arc –
This red, Sedona stone against the air,

Like green piranha
Tearing the agave shoot,
To sip from some deserter’s flung despair.

From planks of cedar,
From brick piles -- powdered, frail --
I pledge to wait for his return,

And when I deem him overdue,
I shall go along the Young Trail,
Retrieve him from the Knob plateau.

BLACK SQUIRREL
  (Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana)

You won’t believe:
I saw a black squirrel
From the tour guide’s tram,
In a quiet curl
Along one slim limb –
half-obscured in leaf –
of a southern oak.

The exhibit, brief
Though it was, enlarged,
As we passed Mound B –
(the first unearthed
From antiquity) –
My secure idea
The place was charged
With rare energy.

The guide told how
Excavations found
Basket “bones” impressed
In the Indian ground;
Archaeologists,
Using modern straw,
Re-creating the natives’
Original forms.

Then, the squirrel, I saw.
A black squirrel, I swear,
No one seemed to see,
So the tram crawled on
As we left it there.

 

TALK WITH FIRST-TO-ARISE

Now let the record distinctly show
The great-great grandson of Little Crow

Beside me speaking near Crazy Horse
In chiseled stonework, has no remorse.

His copper nostrils, long, silver hair,
And winces reflect his famed forebear.

When questioned about the people’s mood
Towards this sculpture, his attitude

Is casual, and borders on curt:
Some welcome the “shrine” – but some are hurt.

Nodding, I say, “With mine, it’s the same,”
For a moment, forgetting their Black Hills claim.

Inquiring only about the Sioux,
I cannot guess his personal view.

Where is your instrument, First-to-Wake,
Held by the hand that I dare not shake?

What is your temperament? Tell me why
The fluted Lakota Lullaby

Ends with the chorus of “Sleep, good boy.
Tomorrow – tomorrow will be a joy.”

 

                     ______________________________


A traditional Teton Sioux song

      
 Translated by Jennifer Reeser

You who are upon the earth, behold,
And you above, this one who is extolled.

You who dwell where sunset falls, behold,
Within the West, this one who is extolled.

You who dwell within the North, behold,
You in the Giant’s home, this one extolled.

You who dwell where sun returns, behold,
Continually, one who is extolled.

You whom we embrace and face, behold,
Within the South, this one who is extolled.


THE CADDO SHARD

Pottery produced by the Caddoan Mississippian culture is some of the finest known in North America. It is usually found in the areas of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.” - World Heritage Encyclopedia, Mississippian Culture Pottery

Good Friday is a time to plant a garden,
And yet instead, here stooping in the yard
I am, where post-construction powders harden,
When early, I unearth the Caddo shard;

Beside some soapstone fragments, so embedded
In Mississippian sediments, the sheen
Of fired clay seems more like cinder wedded
To wattle-sludge, until I get it clean.

The Inca in me knows at once, aroused
From drowsy, esoteric drams— Peru
Approves. Unceremoniously doused
With fluid, its noon “rescue” overdue,

Without a doubt its neighbor-remnants, shattered
By gatherers and hunters, lie nearby.
A midday sunbeam blushes, surely flattered
To have this special mission from on high.

God of the Two Staffs’ barter? Here to broker
Some truce? Or does this relic augur sorrow?
What gifted local brushed it with red ochre
and black, for trade with Azangaro?

Its ragged edges – broken by old strife,
Perhaps – will nudge my scraps from the Adena
Culture, near the prehistoric knife
Of flint, paleo pendants of galena.

My brass Inti will regard it with respect
Above the loving flowers of the sun,
As fellowship with his exclusive sect
Of whose exhibits stands no other one.


ON SEEING THE LATE-ARCHAIC OWLS
      (Poverty Point archaeological dig, Louisiana)

Three thousand years of wisdom now are nigh,
   In those who – by the moonlight – forfeit sleep,
   Discovered in the antiquated steep
   Of clay and humus which will never die,
   But last forever, looking at the sky.
At every turn, an innate urge to weep
   Blows past me like the windy clouds which keep
   Awake -- outside this vault -- the naked eye.
These birds’ red jasper polish fills my brain
   With questions, fragile shells on which to brood:
How can these dainty effigies contain
   Such runic beauty, Native tools so crude
   Creating charm? And how may I attain –
   Through rude means – such eternal magnitude?

 



                                                                           ______________________________

 

 

FOREVER GONE IS THAT GOOD FAITH

For all the smugness in these evil clowns
Of media who shake huge, cotton swabs,
From fake-First Ladies swathed in tacky gowns
They coronate, with glossy “Karen”-bobs,
I cannot help but smell primeval fear.
Their rabble’s rattled now, this much is clear.
As votes are tallied, as the populace
Down-doxes thugs on Washington’s wide streets,
I cannot help but note the fallen grace
They won’t recover, though the foe retreats.
Forever wounded now, forever gone
Is that good faith this Party once extended –
Like gleaming crosses on the White House lawn
Whose civil terms, post-Lincoln’s Day, have ended.

 

______________________________

LAGUNA LAKE
   
(a traditional Acoma Pueblo Native American lyric)

Once upon the west edge of Laguna,
Against the lower side, there was a bowl
Akin to those in which the shaman mixes
His herbs and liquids.

It nicely yielded cattails, plants, and pollen.
It nicely used to motivate the rain gods
To paint it with a scene of sprinkling rain.

Now, northward over us, duck rain gods fly,
And seek Laguna’s bowl of medicine.
Alas! A sad calamity has happened.
Lamentable, the situation is.

Now here about us from the south direction,
The one from which the winter wrens will come,
The birds are white, and in their flight seem clouds.

They seek Laguna’s bowl of medicine.
Alas! A sad calamity has happened.
Lamentable, the situation is.

LOGAN’S LAMENT

“I may challenge the whole orations of Demosthenes and Cicero, and of any more eminent orator, if Europe has furnished more eminent, to produce a single passage, superior to the speech of Logan, a Mingo chief, to Lord Dunmore, when governor of this state.”

              —Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)

I call on any white man now to say
If he has ever reached my cabin hungry,
When Logan has not furnished him with meat;
If he, at any time, came cold and naked,
When Logan failed to cover him with clothing.

Throughout the passing of this bloody, last,
Enduring warfare, Logan has remained
Idly at home, an advocate for peace.
My adoration of the whites was such
That when I passed, my countrymen would point,
And say, “He is an ally of the White Man.”
I even thought to make my place with you,
Except for the abuses of one man,
A colonel you call Cresap, who last spring
In cold blood, unprovoked, not even sparing
My wife and children, killed my kith and kin.

There runs no single droplet of my blood
Within the veins of any living creature.
And this has called on Logan for revenge.
I’ve sought it. I’ve killed many. I have glutted
My vengeance. For my country, I rejoice
Beneath the beacon glimmerings of peace.

But do not harbor any supposition
That mine is the festivity of fear.
Logan has not ever been fainthearted.
He turns not on his heel, to save his life.
To mourn for Logan, who remains? Not one.
 


PHOENIX LANDING

Thus have I flown here: to remove myself
From adding to the universal ills.
Not for the solitude. Not for the thrills
Of climbing to the baking, mesa shelf.
The smallest of all owls they call the Elf,
In exile from the Yavapai Black Hills,
At nest in its Saguaran habit, stills
Me – Cousin. Until I have come to sort
Priorities, my consorts are the Gila,
And limestone tinted like a young tequila
In flasks of glass, through which light rays distort
The distance, turning sage to gypsophila;
Until my burning eyes become unseeing;
Till I become a new, peculiar being.

 

                                   ___________

 

TO THE SNAKESKIN ON MY PATH
 

May I not meet this coming summer
     The form from which your scales are shed
On this machine-laid, man-made pavement
     Shyer creatures shun with dread.

I lasso you, with loops of plastic,
     To burn upon my urban drive,
Bringing a needed, springtime shower –
     Your body elsewhere left alive.

Black Back, Pale Belly, subtly shimmer,
     Allowing me to learn that song
Snakes taught the hunter’s lips to utter,
     That they might never do him wrong.


THE SHAME TOTEM

Erected to commemorate a debt
Ignored or scorned by some important man,
It rose, reminding damages were yet
Unpaid, to stain both family and clan
The way they would each creature’s vivid face
By wicked tools and patient fingers carved
Across the fragrant cedar, till disgrace
Surfaced in full before the justice-starved.

Petroleum spills demanding retribution,
Despised by all, and ordered by the courts
To be redressed for their rude, bold pollution;
Some presidential slight – these are the sorts
Of offense which this totem seeks to school,
That we might learn the artist’s love of Duty
Upon what’s called the Pole of Ridicule,
From cunning craftsmen, disciplined by Beauty.

Disfigure them in effigy. Invert
And fix them on wood staves, for all to see.
The skilled, creative ones whom they have hurt,
By Art, acquire immortal dignity.

 

HE LEAVES THE DEADLY WEAPON

He leaves the deadly weapon here
before he takes his trip.
Regret and conscientious fear
one theft, and it might slip

into the wrong hands, not for good,
directly motivate
his visit to my neighborhood,
to thwart some crime of hate.

Envisioning a violent score,
some vicious killing spree,
he must prevent the Fates before,
entrusting this to me.

But who made me Fate's chaperone,
and why should I fulfill --
forever seemingly alone --
the charges of goodwill?

His trepidation, I can't share,
though I admire the thought,
and will, by all means, guard with care
this object he has brought.

No guardian am I. Expect
my charge for only beauty --
but out of filial respect,
I nod, and do my duty.

 

                               ___________

 

 

 

TO THE OCOTILLO ON THE KNOB

Here is nowhere for the willow.
Blow unrivaled, Ocotillo.
Past the Ponderosa rim,
Over fertile berry vines,
Raised above the shade of dim
Pebble beds and columbines:
Desert coral, Candlewood,
Blooming like blood brotherhood.

Dry of laughter, dry of sob
Sounding on East Pocket Knob,
How could I – where ‘open carry’
Signifies unbounded sun
Glaring on the hiker’s prairie –
Fire a grumble, like a gun?
Mute communion must suffice
With your arid paradise.

Have you lived one hundred years,
Puebloan Sinagua spears
Buried in this mesa slope
Where iguanas shake you; where,
Walking stick in hand, I lope,
Hoping neither snake nor bear
Any moment, breaking through
Cacti, will emerge from you?

Why, below the azure, clouded
Vault of heaven, have you crowded
Out the Spanish Bayonet,
Crimson hedgehog and agave,
Like the huddled, red rosette
Better matched the far Mohave,
Rather than Sonoran sand?
Your profusion— chance, or planned?

Kindred of the Boojum tree,
Listen – do not question me.
Though you weren’t identified
Absolutely at first sight,
While I feigned to be a guide,
Leading up a hot, cliff height
Primitive pursuers of
Hunted quarry – it was love.

 

 

 

 

 

Ballade of Drowned Western Art
  (Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas)

Where are Russell, Bierstadt, and Paul Kane
With Remington and Teichert and the rest?
Hung helplessly, have they been drowned by rain,
Our finest paintings from the Old Wild West?
And Dunton’s “Talking at His Fluent Best,”
His close-knit bronco riders in a brush
Of grays, the Sioux child’s beaded, leather vest –
Were they immersed beneath the torrent’s gush?

And where is John James Audubon’s blue crane –
Above the flood, or swimming in unrest?
Do Couse’s lovers, spoiled by water stain,
Irreparably float – the brave’s bare chest
Against his Native maid, who, chastely dressed
In buckskin, holds her cheek, to hide a blush?
Against her modest form, is he still pressed,
Or have their figures turned to swirling mush?

“Harvey,” they have called this hurricane,
Whose currents cover cattle at its crest,
Like those on Teichert’s watercolor plain.
What comfort have I – that museum’s guest –
They were protected while the streams progressed,
Like mines of gold to which those pokes would rush?
Have they survived, untouched somehow, and blessed –
Like Harvey bluffed at poker, with four flush?

Chief! Do those proud indigenous remain,
Or – like their forebears – did they die, distressed
Within their true, apparent, “safe” domain,
Their hopeless cries – for pride’s sake – unexpressed?



 

Some Other Indians

Some other Indians mock me for my love
Of feathers, stones, and for my stilted talk,
And that I stop to watch the circling hawk,
And that I may be stilled by mourning dove
And bluejay both, before me or above.

They whistle shrilly, while they watch me walk
For miles in rain and cold, to pick a stalk
Of tasseled corn, or stamens of foxglove.

But Grandfather growls, “The child is a poet.
Leave her alone, and should she wish to weep
Because the shamans chant, because the birds
Have spoken -- though the rest of you don’t know it,
This speech of winged things – snicker in your sleep;
For I prefer her wild, old-fashioned words.”


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedna, Mistress of the Underworld

 

The Eskimos recount from ancient lore

The tale of one without a loving wife.

An Inuit dwelling on a lonely shore

With daughter, Sedna, lived a quiet life.

 

The girl grew handsomely, till every youth

Attempted to obtain her, for a spouse –

But Sedna, proud and vain, found each uncouth,

Refusing to forsake her father’s house.

 

At last, upon the breaking of the ice

In spring, an esoteric seagull flew

With gliding, silver, skilled wings to entice

Young Sedna, and a winning song, to woo.

 

Seducing not with song alone, but words,

The gull swooped towards the girl beguilingly:

“Into the territory of the birds,

Into my country, Sedna, come with me!

 

The finest leathers reinforce my tent.

Soft bearskins will enwrap you by the fire.

My fellow gulls will listen, make descent,

And bring you anything you might desire.

 

Their plumes shall fall in fine folds to your feet;

Your lamp shall never lack abundant oil;

Your bowl will never be in need of meat,

And you, yourself, shall never have to toil.”

 

Not long could Sedna, so bewitched, withstand

Such wooing, sung by one to whom the feather

Came freely – so towards the seagull’s land

They made their way, and entered it together.

 

Arriving after long and brutal travel,

Sedna rested, only to discover

His song had been a lie, and watch unravel

The lovely story promised by her lover.

 

Her home, not something any wife could wish

To be, was not of leather pelts, but pinned

In patchwork style, with skins of wretched fish,

Which gave free entryway to snow and wind.

 

Instead of downy reindeer hides, her bed

Was hard with walrus wool, and she must live

Not on rich, sweet venison, but instead,

On foul fish, which were all the birds would give.

 

Too soon she found her husband gull had lied.

Regretting, as she shivered with a pang

Of hunger in her gut, how foolish pride

Had spurned her Inuit suitors, then she sang,

 

“Aja. O, my Father, if you saw

How miserable I am, then you would come

Before the ice and snow beneath me thaw,

While I still sit within this fish tent, numb.

 

If you could see me in my present danger,

Across the sea by boat, we both would hurry

Away from these, who treat me like a stranger,

While round my bed, the flakes whirl in a flurry.”

 

One year passed, and again, the sea was stirred

By warmer winds. Her lonely father came

To see the country of her lover bird,

And finding Sedna, heard her beg in shame,

 

“O, my Father, let me now return!

Hear the outrage done to me. I cringe

To be the teller of what you will learn.”

And, having heard, her father sought revenge.

 

The Inuit destroyed those who defiled

His daughter, brought them down from arctic air,

To leave them irremediably piled

Within that land which brought her such despair.

 
The other gulls, discovering him dead,

(for whom they mourn and cry until this day),

They set out in pursuit of those who fled,

And found the two at sea, not far away.

 

Over the boat, they stirred upon the air

A heavy storm; within the ocean rose

Immense waves, threatening the helpless pair.

Her father, in this mortal peril, chose

 

To offer Sedna to the birds. He flung

Her overboard, then, cruelly, he took

A sharp knife to her knuckles while she clung

To the boat’s edge with a tight death grip, and shook.

 

Her fingers severed, first joints, to the nails

Into the tempest tumbled, there transformed

Upon the froth. They turned to living whales,

The second joints, to ringed seals as it stormed.

 

Meantime, the seagulls – thinking she had perished –

Allowed the storm to cease. The father let

His daughter back into the boat. She cherished

A hatred for him, helpless to forget.

 

Bitter and deadly vengeance, then, she swore

Against the Inuit. Once they had stalled

Against her native and familiar shore,

In safety and composure, Sedna called

 

Her dogs, who waited for her in those lands

With loyalty, from winter till the thaw.

And Sedna set them on her father’s hands

And feet, commanding them in spite to gnaw

 

Them off, once he had fallen into sleep.

He woke, and cursed himself, and her, and those

Who maimed him, when Earth opened in a deep

Pit, to swallow them, and then to close.

 

In Adlivun, the couple now reside,

That zone beneath the Heavens and the Green,

Where Sedna – wounded daughter, seagull’s bride –

Is now the Underworld’s eternal queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Native Strain

 

“We never talk about the Native strain,”

My mother warned in secret, early on.

My father honored her. Our photos – drawn

From generations, grey with filmy grain –

 

Were never framed and flaunted, on display

Like other people’s. Faces by the dozens

Remained in albums – uncles, aunts, and cousins

Enclosed in boxes, shelved and stowed away.

 

Her father, although handsome, could not “pass.”

But this fact was as absent from discussion

As crass vernacular, or formal Russian,

Or choruses of “mountain man” bluegrass.

 

Our Native ties, however, were the sole

Connections we could talk about at all:

A tightly-bound clan, insular and small,

Whose lives we heard as through a locked keyhole.

 

To read my mother’s scrapbooks, one would think

The Indians were our one folk, for none

On our “white side” received us -- they would shun

Us totally, to be our “missing link,”

 

So they received her mention on no page.

This was Grandmother’s lifelong punishment,

Dishonoring her people – wild, hell-bent

On “savages,” at fifteen years of age.

 

No single nor escorted Anglo member

From my maternal granddam’s well-heeled kin

Would travel down by train, nor enter in

To my grandfather’s house, that I remember.

 

Occasionally, I might overhear

Some snippet of a whispered conversation

Long-distance -- when my wild imagination

Would rampage, and the mystery disappear.

 

The while Monk drew a breath, I never saw

Those Scots Virginians. Untamed Tennessee

Became an oft-seen, second home to me –

The birthplace of my “alien” papaw

 

They called “Damned Injun” to Grandmother’s face.

On Lover’s Leap -- the tragic promontory

Where Cherokees maintained the moving story

Of Sautee’s and Nacoochee’s deaths took place,

 

The ancient Romeo and Juliet

Of Native America— he loved to stand;

On Lookout Mountain, where he could command

A view of seven states, all in a set;

 

Where Chickamauga Cherokees defied

Colonial encroachment, and no cragging

Of cliffs is customary – there, where Dragging

Canoe once took the Cherokee to hide.

 

Those were the photos hung in every room,

Of precipice and mountain, peak and bluff:

High, low, as though there could not be enough,

With scenes of snow, by harvest, or abloom.

 

Cliff faces were the faces we would see,

The hill, the valley, and the still, blue lake:

The earth for whom our forebears would forsake

Their tribe, their culture, and their family.

 

                

 

 

 

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