3 Poems (excerpts from Bitterroot)

Posted by on Jun 21, 2012 in Poetry - Musings | 0 comments

3 Poems (excerpts from Bitterroot)

Bitterroot (Freedom Voices Press 2001) – excerpts






We use our hands
© Abena Songbird

Oceans and rivers
Great lakes and streams
We are the dreamers
Weaving the dream

Oceans and rivers
Great flow and ebb
We are the weavers
weaving the web…

When the Dawnland people are songbirds
They set out their snares
like tiny snowshoes
wrapped with sinew
hooked with the thinnest
of horsehair nooses
a bird leg would catch
the black hair pulled taut
ten and twenty birds
gave their songs to feed the people

when the Dawnland people
wove baskets
standing knee-deep in pulp
shavings of ash
lacings of spruce root, incense of sweetgrass
art took on a new meaning

how many baskets does it take
to feed a family
half a dozen in trade
for a week’s worth of flour, molasses, tea and cloth
from the settler’s stores

when my people made baskets
for over two hundred years to survive
you rarely saw their collections
proudly displayed in their wigwams, their homes, or Longhouses
they sat on white ladies mantles
filled with threads of silk and lace
or later
with the cheap indigo dye
from the storekeeper’s stock
their lips swollen from
flattening the porcupine quills
for the fancy quill and splint boxes

they worked so hard
with antler-handled knives
draw shaves, axes
for so little…
pennies were pitched
for baskets
woven water tight
holding our songs, dreams and stories
that held lives
healed with their sweetgrass scent

to sell meant to move
to uproot
downriver in birchbark canoe
later by sled, train and steamship
setting up camp
stripping the spruce poles
forming the circle
shawling them in birchbark laced tight
like our baskets
with the spruce root
or later with cloth tarpaper
that wouldn’t
keep out the rain

traveling and selling to coastal summer resorts
in Canada, Boston Commons, all over N’dakinna (our land)
New England
Picking fiddleheads, potatoes, blueberries
clamming and cleaning
white people’s houses

The Dawnland people
Live a life by their hands
and today some get museum prices
for their baskets
they are “valued”
but sometimes they still sit in dusty swap meets
antique dealer’s stores
only collectors can afford

acid rain is killing
the trees
they are dying
from the tops down
the pesticides on the grasses, roots, the sedge
burn sores on grandmother’s lips
from Odanak
to the California coast….

Oceans and rivers
Great lakes and streams
we are the dreamers
weaving the dreams

Oceans and rivers
great flow and ebb
we are the weavers
weaving the web

The roots, the bark, the sap of the heart
© Abena Songbird

A snap of branch, of twig
a crunch of frost-laden leaf
my winter walk
I pull and tug
The root
that surfaces at the foot of the spruce

searching a people
a passage
from Odanak
gliding down the St. Lawrence
last name
ties to a people
unsmiling photos
of dark women
Victorian buns
of coiled braid
lay like snakes, long sleeping
on their heads

Loose breathings
of soft supple skins
of fringe traded
for corsets of calico in
flowered print
a piece of dried tobacco
sweetgrass woven around a basket
a braid wrapped
in smoked skins

grieving a dead relative
my snowshoes scout
in spiral direction
mimicking grouse
from her nest

I pull
rake the roots
that snap
and curl in my hands
dried umbilical cords
stiff reigns pulling
in all my relations – Lôgodamwôgan
lacing the birch basket
that hold a great-great grandmother
traveling up from
near permafrost
up from dead leaf mulch

around bones of deer
fallen to harsh winter’s hunger
acorn caches of squirrel
through groves of pine
aspen and birch
around mushroom rings or faerie
past rabbit hutch
and fox burrow

I rake and pull
rake and pull
from cities
far removed

My mother is a painter
© Abena Songbird

My mother is a painter
She painted
three masterpieces
sparrow’s hair
tufts of nutty brown
noses that are broad
strong and peaked
chins that dimple
and jut

my mother is a painter
she painted three canvases
eyes of hazel
fawn, sable
bodies sloped
and rounded
curved snaked
like rivers
with mountainous
hollows and rolls

my mother is a painter
from her womb
she squeezed
an ocean of color
a splatter and bleed
of ochre
cinnamon and teal
chaparral, brick
terra cotta
azure, coral , burnt sienna

sturdy trees
that whistle in the wind
deft and water tight
flutes with reeds of willow
that bend
but do not break

my mother is a painter
who paints
her mother
elder down, snow goose hair
of wit, of vinegar
sweet as maple sap

my mother is a painter
who paints
Mother Earth’s gift of every day
hummingbird feed
From her tubers
summer’s shadow
across her lawn

My mother is a painter
Now she paints her
Greatest work
She dips her brush
In her spring
of dreams
she paints thoughts
of new beginnings
never ending in a circle
of seventy four

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