Friday, July 25, 2003


“Two days ago everything was taken away from me by people I had helped. Never again will I be able to trust the treacherous Americans. I am now ready for war.”
(Nez Perce Chief Looking Glass to Chief Joseph, Cottonwood, July 3, 1877)

Raven is flying
east over the Clearwater.
Suddenly his breath
begins coming in short spurts,
tears seeping from his eyes

like a sad surprise
and he knows that something bad
happened in this place.
He flutters down on a rock
on the bank of the river,

enters his old heart
and listens to the chief’s voice
as Looking Glass tells
his people to abandon
their village. Shots echoing

across years bury
themselves deep in Raven’s brain,
and he sees, as if
on an interior screen,
soldiers aiming their rifles

at women, children
and the defenseless elders.
As the July light
edges over the tall pines,
Raven sees the same sun that

in the year eighteen
seventy seven witnessed
another milestone
of Manifest Destiny—
the myth of the white man’s right

to take away all
the lands of native peoples
and keep them for his
own use—genocide as the
motor for development.

Raven hides his eyes
behind his wings, feels ashamed
of putting the sun
in the sky so many years
ago to make us conscious—

only to project
the mutual savagery
of human beings
on the celestial screen.
And again he hears the voice,

through the swaying pines,
of Looking Glass trying to
surrender, to save
his people from extinction.
Raven has heard the same words,

now, too many times,
in too many languages;
he wants to take back
the sun from the sky, return
the world to its earned darkness.

But he can’t do it:
the human juggernaut keeps
staggering forward,
blindly drowning the planet
in petroleum, in blood—

while Raven hunches
on a rock in Idaho,
imploring the Great
Creator to forgive him
for usurping his function.