So, here and now we meet, you and I,
eying each other warily, circumspect,
Ferryman Fox and Gingerbread Man.
Meanwhile from a rhymespin beyond,
urgent figures insist:
''Tell them the story, give them HOPE. Sing them the tale, so what has come to pass will cut through the years, shining in the voice like a blade''.
And thus it begins, if you will ..........
me here before you and you before me ..........
..... Before me, like knots on lines,
came all those others:
father's furthest fathers,
One bloodline to a green island,
to beer-black bog-oak
drowning under black potatoes and red dragoons.
Another line beyond sunset
to hunters of beaver and turquoise
walking poised on tribal earth:
Cheyenne, Sioux, Oglala, Minneconjou:
Names to put flames in the games of children,
one little two little three little Indians.
Americans before Yanks,
Gaelic before American.
Grandmothers beyond Granma.
'You're James Casey now,'
a new name, jammed on without thought:
remnant tenantry exported for a distant landlord,
ignorance stripping well-won stripes
off a clan name as old as Ireland.
One choice remained like a bad taste.
Cornered between gibbet, starvation,
workhouse and hard road labour,
meek as Mary
James Casey bit the bitterest pill
till beyond sight of land,
then gnawed wood for days in a heaving hold
with a hundred other fallen heroes.
Such fierce fire, can you believe,
tangled smoking in this shawl
woven by the Dagda,
embroidered by CuChullain,
preserved by endurance and curious vitality?
Centuries' rage at families' unravelling,
dispelled not even by cold disbelief
at the prophecies' awful truth.
Such heat in the emigrant heart,
it warms the tale
after five generations.
''James Casey, is it?''
America greets the survivor,
this aged boy,
this name with no ancestor.
3. Seeing Moon
''Don't stare so, boy'', Granma grumbled one day,
''I swear, you have my grandmother's eyes ....... Seeing Moon they called her. What do you see when you ...........?''
and she turned back to pickling eggs.
Betrayed in a world without mentor,
I dared no reply,
but when, easy as laughing,
Seeing Moon spilled her visions,
the world listened, intent as cats.
Seeing Moon and America,
in a voice silent beyond belief,
held deep conversation.
By womantime she knew
too true to say,
the gist of life.
She released clues,
stepping stones across dangerous water.
She navigated new tides in the Peoples' moving.
She felt the melt of seasons
and sang for healings and endings
and for the quicksand present.
She brought forth a daughter.
She knows James Casey is coming.
This is the way of the waterwheel:
the grain is ground,
the water flows on.
But in the way of wheels, and worlds,
millstones can be stopped,
water calmed for reflection.
Through bloodshed and trickery,
at era's frontiers,
the wheel rises from the race,
slowly, slower, slow, it can, should, stop.
This dangling moment, the impartial wheel's tease:
the balance of red people and white.
Then, overbearing, overturning, overrunning,
hope is toppled, history heaves through,
grist is ground.
Honest, and stallion-strong given decent food,
James Casey enjoyed wages' freedom,
working the railroads' steel streets,
shoving civilisation across the prairie
like a blind horse backing a wagon
through a glazier's yard.
They say he worked well.
But adrift in drink,
reefs of nightmare unkeeled his ship:
a drowning confusion of redcoats,
smoking crackle in the thatch,
children shrieking for impossible protection;
all hell scratching his eyes,
fury beyond bounds
pounding his hands to hammers,
the bitten-back spitting out,
hurling back and threefold
the shame of disempowerment.
Just an ordinary man, what was he to do,
the fury gone
and three men with it,
put to earth in coffins?
They say he makes a good soldier,
now at least he kills in peace.
A day of snow blew a stranger in,
as if guiding his bloodied moccasins
and soothing his cracked muttering.
In the lodge of Seeing Moon,
from his random sense
meaning fell like runes
Into her silent knowing.
At the breaking of winter's crucifixion,
his scarred feet leapt away to the path
like a bat to the air.
The tribe rolled slowly with the spring,
stretched its limbs for summer lands,
and the knowing shone again,
glint of a deep fish,
at the parting of bright flowers.
Torn tribes, flocks of startled birds,
signs from far off swept hard as hail
through wary summer.
Wounded pride laboured too dearly
over despair and revenge.
Amongst disbelief and confusion,
Seeing Moon watches, still as glass,
the knowing so deep, so heavy.
Autumn returns her people
to the wintering places,
but now, hand in hand with a wise child,
she follows only the seeing,
to a distant pool of confluence.
7. 400 years
The irresistible current of 1492,
now four hundred years old
and approaching delinquent maturity,
eddies to another focus.
In they spin, red world and white,
to a keyhole of history.
Above, a tornado scatters soul starwards,
while below a whirlpool drags down the dead.
Frayed Ghost Dancers,
limping Lakota families worn with war,
burdened with unanswered prayers,
stumble starving through midwinter fear
from wistful past to clenched future.
Their white flag flies,
a wounded bird in a winter wind,
and dying blood
freezes in the snow.
Four troops of 7th Cavalry,
bluecoat pony soldiers,
hungry to avenge Little Big Horn,
blue ants on the white land.
Evening conspires a meeting,
a time of surprising compassion:
shelter, food, medicine, warmth,
and the sly current sucks them in together
to the chosen spot
on the banks of Wounded Knee.
James Casey is here, sleeping,
tented in full uniform,
as ice swirls in the air
like the rain of Ireland
and settles all around like light.
Seeing Moon is here,
eyes reflecting lodge fires,
but so full of seeing
seeing is all:
the gathering of shades,
a soldier chief coming,
more pony soldiers,
the tribe all around,
uneasy as hell.
Words without meaning
struggle from somewhere in her head,
And James Casey starts as if shot.
Redcoats crash in,
the thatch is ablaze,
his children clutch his legs.
Yet through the flames .........
''Seamas O'Cathasaigh'', she breathes, in blanket and buckskin,
''Seamas O'Cathasaigh'', with a sound like the sea.
Seamas O'Cathasaigh, inside out,
from within a name with no ancestor,
watches from premonition's outer dark
a wake in a lit window:
where now there are fiddles,
every dancer an Irish memory,
rhythm rising in spirited delirium.
But a wider circle closes them round,
redcoats, bluecoats, menacing nearer.
A wake within a wake.
Seamas O'Cathasaigh's screamed warning
chokes in his throat,
drowned by gunshot.
Dancers fall and vanish.
Soldiers lean in, red and blue round a pool of lead,
but recoil riflekicked from their own reflections:
among them James Casey,
bloodied to the hairline.
''Seamas O'Cathasaigh,'' the whisper again,
and James Casey shudders awake, listening.
The dream fades, a gift withheld,
leaving his old name rattling in his brain,
a butterfly at some forgotten window .
James Casey at work, taking orders.
''Why are we so many?''
asks Seamas O'Cathasaigh from within.
''Why crack a nut with a rifle?''
old men, crones.
Surrendered rifles stack up in council centre,
soldiers still take tools, axes, knives:
''Why four Hotchkiss cannons?''
Medicine man, dancing,
ghost-shirted woman, staring,
young brave, resisting,
fumbles an accidental shot.
Quick as traps, triggers trip.
Red people scream on the run,
blue soldiers leap to the chase,
shrapnel kicks children skywards,
bullets shred the white flag.
The possessed pursue the terrified,
terrorists pursue the dispossessed.
of three hundred,
half lie hard as ice.
Some crawl to freezing freedom,
others break and fall.
Captives by the wagonload
await a church key,
but penned in white church's cold comfort,
mangled sheep in shepherd's fold,
few can read the decorations:
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.
Four days past Christmas,
four centuries since Columbus,
Seeing Moon reads the knowing:
here at Wounded Knee lies the dream of The People.
the snow's bloodstory blackened
and returned to the soil of a new America.
James Casey, as guilty in the blue coat
as any in the red
and half-blinded by friendly fire,
thenceforth shielded his flinty tempers,
and continued west.
The buckskin woman and her child,
half-seen by lantern-light,
half-recognised in a whisper,
disappeared, a dream in the dawn.
even from such final divorce and estrangement,
here I am,
the seed of generations leading back:
mother line to that red,
father line to that white.
And casting back, turning this like a tidegift
in the wondering mind, this way and that .........
could Seeing Moon in wide-eyed knowing,
or James Casey in the black of his blind eye,
ever have foreseen,
through the needs for justice or redemption,
through the love of one for another,
in the twinkle in the eye,
the re-lacing of such sundered lifelines?
begotten in rage,
maybe at last hauled these lines together in this storyteller's bundle:
to heal Wounded Knee
in the here and now of you and me,
to still the mindless millwheel
for Seeing Moon's reflection.
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