It is a year dear one, since you afar
Went out beyond my yearning mortal sight¬
A wondrous year! perchance in many a star
You have sojourned, or basked within the light
Of mightier suns; it may be you have trod
The glittering pathways of the Pleiades,
And through the Milky Way’s white mysteries
Have walked at will, fire-shod.
You may have gazed in the immortal eyes
Of prophets and of martyrs; talked with seers
Learned in all the lore of Paradise,
The infinite wisdom of eternal years;
To you the Sons of Morning may have sung,
The impassioned strophes of their matin hymn,
For you the choirs of the seraphim
Their harpings wild out-flung.
But still I think at eve you come to me
For old, delightsome speech of eye and lip,
Deeming our mutual converse thus to be
Fairer than archangelic comradeship;
Dearer our close communings fondly given
Than all the rainbow dreams a spirit knows,
Sweeter my gathered violets than the rose
Upon the hills of heaven.
Can any exquisite, unearthly morn,
Silverly breaking o’er a starry plain,
Give to your soul the poignant pleasure born
Of virgin moon and sunset’s lustrous stain
When we together watch them ? Oh, apart
A hundred universes you may roam,
But still I know¬I know¬your only home
Is here within my heart!
We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the author’s death.
The snails have made a garden of green lace:
broderie anglaise from the cabbages,
chantilly from the choux-fleurs, tiny veils-
I see already that I lift the blind
upon a woman’s wardrobe of the mind.
Such female whimsy floats about me like
a kind of tulle, a flimsy mesh,
while feet in gumboots pace the rectangles-
garden abstracted, geometry awash-
an unknown theorem argued in green ink,
dropped in the bath.
Euclid in glorious chlorophyll, half drunk.
I none too sober slipping in the mud
where rigged with guys of rain
the clothes-reel gauche
as the rangy skeleton of some
gaunt delicate spidery mute
is pitched as if
while hung from one thin rib
a silver web-
its infant, skeletal, diminutive,
now sagged with sequins, pulled ellipsoid,
I suffer shame in all these images.
The garden is primeval, Giovanni
in soggy denim squelches by my hub,
over his ruin
shakes a doleful head.
But he so beautiful and diademed,
his long Italian hands so wrung with rain
I find his ache exists beyond my rim
and almost weep to see a broken man
made subject to my whim.
O choir him, birds, and let him come to rest
within this beauty as one rests in love,
till pears upon the bough
small snails as pale as pearls
hang golden in
a heart that know tears are a part of love.
And choir me too to keep my heart a size
larger than seeing, unseduced by each
bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell,
so that the whole may toll,
its meaning shine
clear of the myriad images that still-
do what I will-encumber its pure line.
This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.
Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.
But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.
They were coming across the prairie, they were galloping hard and fast;
For the eyes of those desperate riders had sighted their man at last—
Sighted him off to Eastward, where the Cree encampment lay,
Where the cotton woods fringed the river, miles and miles away.
Mistake him? Never! Mistake him? the famous Eagle Chief!
That terror to all the settlers, that desperate Cattle Thief—
That monstrous, fearless Indian, who lorded it over the plain,
Who thieved and raided, and scouted, who rode like a hurricane!
But they’ve tracked him across the prairie; they’ve followed him hard and fast;
For those desperate English settlers have sighted their man at last.
Up they wheeled to the tepees, all their British blood aflame,
Bent on bullets and bloodshed, bent on bringing down their game;
But they searched in vain for the Cattle Thief: that lion had left his lair,
And they cursed like a troop of demons—for the women alone were there.
“The sneaking Indian coward,” they hissed; “he hides while yet he can;
He’ll come in the night for cattle, but he’s scared to face a man.”
“Never!” and up from the cotton woods rang the voice of Eagle Chief;
And right out into the open stepped, unarmed, the Cattle Thief.
Was that the game they had coveted? Scarce fifty years had rolled
Over that fleshless, hungry frame, starved to the bone and old;
Over that wrinkled, tawny skin, unfed by the warmth of blood.
Over those hungry, hollow eyes that glared for the sight of food.
He turned, like a hunted lion: “I know not fear,” said he;
And the words outleapt from his shrunken lips in the language of the Cree.
“I’ll fight you, white-skins, one by one, till I kill you all,” he said;
But the threat was scarcely uttered, ere a dozen balls of lead
Whizzed through the air about him like a shower of metal rain,
And the gaunt old Indian Cattle Thief dropped dead on the open plain.
And that band of cursing settlers gave one triumphant yell,
And rushed like a pack of demons on the body that writhed and fell.
“Cut the fiend up into inches, throw his carcass on the plain;
Let the wolves eat the cursed Indian, he’d have treated us the same.”
A dozen hands responded, a dozen knives gleamed high,
But the first stroke was arrested by a woman’s strange, wild cry.
And out into the open, with a courage past belief,
She dashed, and spread her blanket o’er the corpse of the Cattle Thief;
And the words outleapt from her shrunken lips in the language of the Cree,
“If you mean to touch that body, you must cut your way through me.”
And that band of cursing settlers dropped backward one by one,
For they knew that an Indian woman roused, was a woman to let alone.
And then she raved in a frenzy that they scarcely understood,
Raved of the wrongs she had suffered since her earliest babyhood:
“Stand back, stand back, you white-skins, touch that dead man to your shame;
You have stolen my father’s spirit, but his body I only claim.
You have killed him, but you shall not dare to touch him now he’s dead.
You have cursed, and called him a Cattle Thief, though you robbed him first of bread—
Robbed him and robbed my people—look there, at that shrunken face,
Starved with a hollow hunger, we owe to you and your race.
What have you left to us of land, what have you left of game,
What have you brought but evil, and curses since you came?
How have you paid us for our game? how paid us for our land?
By a book, to save our souls from the sins you brought in your other hand.
Go back with your new religion, we never have understood
Your robbing an Indian’s body, and mocking his soul with food.
Go back with your new religion, and find—if find you can—
The honest man you have ever made from out a starving man.
You say your cattle are not ours, your meat is not our meat;
When you pay for the land you live in, we’ll pay for the meat we eat.
Give back our land and our country, give back our herds of game;
Give back the furs and the forests that were ours before you came;
Give back the peace and the plenty. Then come with your new belief,
And blame, if you dare, the hunger that drove him to be a thief.”
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.