Saturday, March 5, 2011

Yellowbird Eulogy (or A Personal Cree Love Song for My Father)...poem

Yellowbird Eulogy (or A Personal Cree Love Song For My Father)

It is a breathless wind that sighs this morning
over this hard land, this country
I am here to speak of him
as is my right…as he is no more

I want to speak of love,
love mean
love lost, stolen and misplaced
and maybe of love enduring

Words have always been my medicine
good and bad
in my youth I did not believe in bad medicine
I took for granted the idea that one merely prayed
and the world was yours
but the with the passing of so many days and relations
I am older and so are those dreams

Father, when they put you in the ground
not all your children came and only your last wife
a solemn distance was kept between those present
out of respect or grief and those who came for closure

I gave you everything – ” you once said
all that I had
nothing could have been more true

this cannot be explained to my friend and sister Ruby
a woman six month older than I
our mothers with different names
he is gone, I say
but for her, nothing has changed

and what about Tony?
my oldest brother from another mother
he slaps his knee and cackles
and tells of a flea-bitten, broken down quarter horse
my father gave to him for his son
a horse Tony named Glue
the old man,” he would chuckle,
still waiting for the buffalo to come to back

Where are you now Mitchell?
a brother from yet another mother
who, before he was killed, told my father,
if I didn’t love you I’d have killed you a long time ago
you son of a bitch!

with me
my brother remains that tiger, tiger burning bright

He did not give me ponies, however
but I know traveling vast distances
on the power of 350 horses
taming a 1975 two-door Chevrolet
my own fire engine red convertible pony
40 miles to the gallon
a steel-wheeled faithful steed if ever there was one
mine is a death race with the past
I survey the human wreckage all around me
and convince myself that I am winning

I kept the fire that final night we watched over you, dad
smoke rose from what I had built
wood burned and carried my fingerprints
in wisps to the ages

they tell me I am much like you
prone to vanishing for days
and, at times, for years
for you it was into the army
a place you would never talk about
though when you came out, they said,
you were never the same -
long before that, you disappeared to residential school
a euphemism for labor camp in our country
a place that saw you and other Indian children
labor, work and grind away
to refine their lumber, their leather, their tin
and their words
so you spoke in two tongues
never fluent in one
not much good at the other
a man for whom words simply got in the way

I too can disappear – it’s easy
I hitch-hike and sing for my supper
and am usually in any place but where I want to be
I also carry a restless heart
and little patience for fools
too proud to admit that I am among the biggest fools there are

It’s true I don’t remember everything
but about him I will say
he did give me things...
like kisses, guitars, his eyes and lessons
on how not to treat our mothers
I learned these things well
I am nothing if not a good student

Christmas 1973
A shabby cowtown 2nd story walk-up
Four little Indians cower and watch as a whiskey-fueled battle rages
It’s Indian against Indian
in this fight we hope she wins

(fast forward)

Christmas 1999
Just outside the reservation in a dimly lit trailer shack
over Wild Turkey a more subtle clash commences
how come you don’t speak better Cree?”
how come none of your other kids visit
It’s still Indian against Indian
and in this fight nobody wins

And didn’t we both love white women, dad?
didn’t we both learn our lessons well?
didn’t we both wind up broken men?
your arm and skull to her racist father and brother
and much later, my heart to another's indifference -
now, even I know that you cannot cross the streams

Father you have left me in a strange time
where there is no room for men and women in the bottom line
where the only person who cares
less about your everybody
Would it please or disappoint you to know that I am educated?
whatever that means and for what it’s worth

We are Indians you and I, aren’t we?
we do not fight and die for our right to cast our vote
we are born with that right
we fight and die to feed our children...and our souls

and we dance –
I think of you as a grass dancer
laying it out for all those that followed
your death giving us a place to meet one last time
If anything I am a ghost-dancer
summoning you and everyone I can think of
dancing as fast as I can
hoping against hope that one day I may see you again
and none of us will ever know any kind of hunger again

Uncle Bob once said:
if you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise,
just remind me and I’ll show you the scars

well I wear the scars of this love
I carry them like a sacred pipe handed down
the scars are mine and no one need understand them
I too know what it is love something or someone
that you can’t even stand

there it is again...that word
I am hanging on to it
It is all I have and all I have to give
It is my reward and my punishment
and the mightiest weapon there is against forgetting

So long Apps…father
I may see you again at the Wrecking Ball Tavern, in Hell,
Where they’ll play country songs about
faster horses
younger women
older whiskey...and more money

or maybe,
after time out in the happy hunting ground
I’ll see you at the Howard Buffalo Memorial Rec Center
we’ll meet inside the eternal Round dance
and we’ll meet there as young men
in a place of sacred things
where only our names are remembered
and there is no word in our language for redemption


© 2011 Champsteen Publishing

1 comment:

  1. well done an ode to your father and many others like him