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
is rich
for everybody.
Small ditches filled with seeping water,
the land is peaceful.

On one farm, in fields of mint, between green rows,
white geese
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,
over houses,
far off,
     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
full moon,
     the night is like deep water.


I’m getting here late.
This is
     the first council fire in forty years–
     All the tribes of the Yakimas are gathering tonight,
anyone welcome.

Following cars,
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
     seated drummers,
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,
     are they
     the last?

Out there in the arena some wear feathers
     and dance,
     bending low,
     the sun rising on their backs
     circled by
     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

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