Originally Featured in Woodland Poems

Near a ridge where far recedes the frozen
Forest into valleys wide, Scoouwa’s chin
In despondence fell.  Faint and overcome
With brow perplexed, he searched the wood for crumb
Of hickory-nut, or the fleeting track
Of roaming herds, until his slumping back
Could take no more.  One knee upon the ground
He placed, and fate discerned with breath profound;
For pain at ease no longer spoke by still
Expression what silent truth tried to kill
With vain remorse; and often passed he look
Of spite, or mimicked words, and even shook
His head in quick reproach, where fell his eyes,
In lost respect for his adoptive ties.

‘Remember,’ had said his brother-in-law,
A man too weak to hunt, too pained to crawl,
‘You were once a white man, but through the years
Have grown, and now like us have pierced your ears.
Hunger has so long changed our appearance
We look oddly at each other, and rants
And distant mumblings waste our lonely fire,
Which shame proves we are not what we admire.
For to suffer amongst even beloved
Will estrange our strongest reason, and loved
Or unloved, seek release in dissension.
I am old, nor move as well, my vision
Wanes, but want suffers us no greater task
Than promise makes; and ever should I ask
Owaneeyo to bring me food, behind
This crippled frame, stands lasting peace of mind.’

But as those words weighed upon Scoouwa’s thoughts
The day drew on, and from various parts
The wind arose, yielding what little will
Was in his heart outspoken, yet tranquil:

‘At morn I rose, brother, as I was told,
And first the ridge and in the meadows cold
Bestowed my strength renewed to hunt all day,
But my strength has waned, and I see no way
That I may hunt, and keep hunting in vain—
I shall die of hunger if I remain!
I’m going home, going where my name
Will recall the past that your tribesmen shame.
I am not an Indian, nor am I
A man to wait upon a faith too high
When a better life may be lived.  Beyond
These trees, a four-day walk, I’ll find the bond
Of a former brotherhood to give me
Comfort— and they will tell me I am free.
And I know, brother, without me you’ll die,
But I’ve no strength to face the reason why
I leave this place, and leave you to your fate:
Owaneeyo, you said, will not be late.
Now to the safeties of my white-man’s home,
As for you, I care not what you become.’

He rose and from that spot bewildered ran,
Which certain frenzy in a silent man
Will lead him far, across so many miles,
Until hope, despair, through so many trials,
His movements slow upon desperate wrath
And seek of no return.  Forbidden path
Upon forbidden path reworks his state
Of mind, wherein a dream and conscious fate
Arise to follow naught but his ideal,
And until he holds it, holds nothing real.
Still, at certain moments, from lack of force
Or true direction, Scoouwa sought divorce
From his purpose and stopped beside a creek,
Or looked for tracks in a meadow.  The beak
Of an owl he could spot in trees, or smell
A plant before it came to view, but quell
An impulse by Nature made, he could not,
And wearying only, by stress grew hot.
For with one great jerk he’d retake his way,
Then again stop, and watch descend the day;
And on and on like this he went, until
He sensed his near approach upon a hill.
Anxiously, Scoouwa leveled off his gun,
‘I do not care,’ he whispered, ‘I am done!’
And shot a buffalo that down to eat
Had cast its head.

He sprang on it as fleet
With knife, shaking hand, and strange emotion;
Skinned the fattest parts by instinct chosen,
And chewed upon the flesh until his fire
Seared as the pains of underfed desire,
Then set two steaks upon the glowing coals
And ate, and ate until his brother’s calls
Appeased him, then he skinned the other meat,
His conscience did his former path defeat:
‘I’m going home, going where my name
Will recall the life I had thought to shame—
I’m no Indian, but I’ll not let die
The man who told me faith was nearby.’

 

Douglas Thornton is a poet and English teacher living in France and has recently published his first book of poetry entitled Woodland Poems which contains lyrical, narrative, and dramatical works with subjects invented, imagined, and derived from Native American culture.
Featured Image: “Sunny Morning” by Thomas Cole

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4 Responses

  1. NealD

    Attractive in its own right and evocative of Longfellow’s Song.

    Vous avez les bons mots et d’espirit, frere!

    Reply

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