Friday, November 07, 2008

(In memory of my grandfather Clovis)


Your grandfather Louis,
deprived of a native name,
then of his French name
when he crossed his family
into the United States,

deprived your mother
of the warmth of the long house
of community,
married her off at 13
to bear 11 children,

bury her husband.
A widow at 41,
she moved you all 2
thousand miles to Snoqualmie
Pass, way on the outskirts of

built a big log house and called
it The Donut Inn,
frying mountains of beignets
for ravenous travelers

who couldn’t care less
if French or English mumbled
from her raven’s beak.
There you tumbled in the snow,
wild with being a child, high

above your brother’s
dedication to building
his tourist cabins.
There you chose the better part:
learning to be Hawk, learning

to read the deer tracks
and bear droppings, then turning
your eyes to Pancho
Villa’s revolution far
to the south, in Mexico,

where his horses’ hooves
drummed your dreams to their flash point.
In adolescence
you discovered a way to
be Indian AND cowboy,

and cover your heart
with the dust of Mexico;
that lead to rodeos, where
brother Indians became

other cowboys, and
where the Nez Perce were
the top riders. But
the purses were pretty small
because the winners weren’t white.


When you married Ruth,
both of you were just 18.
Your mother suffered
scorn from your mother-in-law,
child of an aristocrat

born out of wedlock,
despite their both being French
speakers in Anglo-
land; the price hypocrisy
imposes on loneliness

is the steep learning
curve of assimilation.
But you had the sense
to create your own nation—
putting fire to metal

and producing sculptures
of long-forgotten flowers,
horses like arrows
and your wonderful kettles
of hammered copper and brass.

You made what pleased you,
and did what you pleased:
trading old rifles,
catching snakes in the sagebrush,
hunting arrowheads along

the Columbia,
mining a mountain top for
gold, shooting winter’s
supply of elk, deer and bear,
and always, your fast horses

bursting from the barn
to battle down the muddy
track at Longacres,
while you tipped your expensive
Stetson at the bets window.

When the snow backed off
in spring we would ride your jeep
up the canyon road
until it got stuck up to
the axles, then winch it out;

liberating it
from the mud called for a few
candy bars: Baby Ruth
or maybe Butterfingers
that you bought by the carton—

before heading back
to the ranch and grandmother’s
lemon meringue pie.
Sugar and coffee were your
fuels, and they served you well.


When I was edging
toward adolescence, you gave
me some good advice:
“It isn’t necessary
for your grandmother to know

what you are doing”,
which surely saved me a lot
of aggravation.
Teenage boys copied your spray-
painted jeep—a precursor

in the 50s to
the psychedelic buses
screaming The 60s—
and college guys got credits
for watching you drink coffee

and carrying your
equipment at the World’s Fairs:
the Smithsonian
had you demonstrate metal-
working, and strange women gave

you their phone numbers
while the college guys looked on,
wishing they were you.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch my
grandmother put her foot down,

said “no more horses”—
so you bought a pair of mules
and scattered horses
around the valley, giving
me a map of where they were

in case of your death.
When I got married we lived
on Magnolia
Beach with no central heating,
so you came with your chain saw

to cut up driftwood
for our fireplace, let women
chase you around in
the Red Robin Tavern while
my new husband coveted

your magnetism,
feeling young and foolish in
his tie-dyed tee shirt.
You drank a few beers, went to
some galleries, predicted

our difficult life
as a couple, then left us
some firewood, loaded
your saw back in the Bronco
and headed back home to the ranch.


You completed 50 years
of marriage to Ruth,
refined your artist’s vision
with cataract surgery

that allowed you to
spot dimes along the roadside;
you kept the silver ones
in the small trunk I gave you
both for your golden wedding.

And because Ruth had
backed out on your plan to spend
those golden years in
Mexico, you expanded
your academic antics,

devoted more hours
to searching for blue agates
in dry river beds,
hammered out more bracelets
and pieced onyx mosaics.

My daughter spent school
vacations watching Grandpa
create war bonnets
and swap his jewelry for
Navajo bracelets of

Blue Gem and Kingman
turquoise. An Easter
studio portrait
of you two shows a blank space
between Renate’s teeth, two

grins gleaming below
your big Stetson, and that last
summer in the tall teepee
you made, Renate sat guard
while you dreamed, and the cancer

metastasized from
your colon to your liver.
“Grandpa promised me
he’d tell me the old stories”,
she said, “But mostly he sleeps”.

The photo I made
2 weeks before your last dream
shows you transparent,
but with all your teeth and hair.
We buried you in zero

degrees of bright snow,
so like a Quebec landscape,
the day before my
35th birthday; I said:
“Time to become an adult”.


A few weeks after
your funeral, Grandma Ruth
rang me up to say
your chickens had come home to
roost: the ranchers who had hid

your horses from her
wanted to know what to do
with them. “I told them
to keep them—and realized
that was the first family

decision I’d made,
after almost 60 years
of marriage: he let
me believe I was calling
the shots, while he always moved

all of the pieces”.
You must have had a good laugh
imagining Ruth
learning how to trade horses
and sell your gun collection—

not to mention barns
stuffed to the rafters: snowshoe
prototypes (one for
each year), toboggans, skis, sleds,
deer and elk antlers—the stuff

by a man from the mountains
who made the valley
his playground. It fell to Ruth
to fall and shatter her hip,

unload all of your things
on other mountain men and
sell the property.
She vacillated: “I don’t
think he’s want me to sell it”.

“It’s your decision”,
I said. “You can try taking
care of 5 acres
pushing a walker, and live
6 months—or buy a small place

and live another
several years in comfort”.
She got rid of it,
moved into a mobile home
and neighbors helped plant her prize-

winning dahlias.
We had a long phone talk
3 days before she died—
I was in Boston Common,
buried in October leaves.


Ruth outlived you by
9 years, and 5 years later
I followed your dream
to Mexico to find my
home writing and producing

theater here in
the birthplace of Zapata,
dreaming in Spanish
of revolution: a day
when Native people will not

be tempted to “pass”
because the land will belong
to he who works it,
and no one will have to choose
between living on his knees,

dying on his feet.
When snow covers your gravestone,
here it is 80
degrees, and you, who slept in
winter on an electric

mattress pad, under
an electric blanket and
down comforter--while
wearing socks—would finally
feel warm. Here in our valley

sometimes I smell snow
falling on the high pass to
Mexico City;
deer come down and steal fodder
from the cows in the ranchos

up in the near hills,
like they did in Ellensburg.
Here hawks and owls swoop
down out of the guaje trees
to hunt on the riverbank

for rats and field mice,
and ravens are forced to bathe in
polluted water.
Young men leave the villages
to pick crops where I grew up,

far in El Norte,
while here their fields and their wives
lie fallow, waiting.
Washington made treaties
with Mexico, stole its land,

destroyed its culture,
builds its reservation wall.
The turquoise stones in
your bracelet that I wear
are the skies of our planet.

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