Saturday, May 12, 2012
East of the Mountains, Driving to White Swan
June 29, 1969
The Yakima river valley
half an hour before the sun goes,
driving past farms
Sunnyside to Granger, and on, beyond Toppenish,
fieldrows of young beans, dark brown earth
sunlight on the sea of leaves over the darkening cornfields,
the hops growing up on high crossed sticks
like ruins that disappeared
leaving green arms
in the air.
I have a feeling anything will grow here; this earth
Small ditches filled with seeping water,
the land is peaceful.
On one farm, in fields of mint, between green rows,
are bent over like Chicanos
weeding the mint.
Now and then one stands up,
looks off into space,
looking at something over the tops of cars,
blue clouds over the Cascades.
This is the longest valley in the world.
At White Swan, out
beyond all the farms,
maybe a light every once in a while,
in the sage,
in dark ravines filled with willow brush,
under the newly risen
the night is like deep water.
I’m getting here late.
the first council fire in forty years–
All the tribes of the Yakimas are gathering tonight,
red tail lights in the dust,
a bright chilly night,
three miles out cars are gathered in a field,
white canvas teepees in a huge circle,
booths selling popcorn and soft drinks,
the bone game, and
a dirt-floor dance hall with
bleachers three rows deep,
everybody hunched up in the cold,
four Indian girls dancing off to one side, wearing bright
headbands and soft leather boots,
old men sitting around a dream,
eight of them,
calling for the next dance. The chief,
cowboy hat and braided hair, in the circle of
the face of a real Indian,
lifts the tilted bright silver microphone
off his knees:
"It’s a cold night, yes," he says.
"Dance and you won’t feel it."
He starts to lift his drumstick, but
picks up the microphone again:
"This is everybody’s war dance!"
And the old drummers, dry and distant,
laugh a little and shift in their chairs.
Later, six men
from another tribe
with a drum come to play and chant.
These old men,
Out there in the arena some wear feathers
the sun rising on their backs
bright colored trembling feathers.
Here on the benches we all wear the same clothes
and have no bells on our feet.
–Robert Sund (1929-2001),
from Poems from Ish River Country: Collected Poems & Translations, 2004