Thursday, October 8, 2009
Imagine, you have taken the hands of your children and walked through the sun and the sand to a lovely wooden house on a small dune overlooking the Pacific, where your friends and family are dancing to the beat of drums and feasting on roasting salmon over an open fire. As you turn the children loose to greet their cousins and run laughing through the tall grass, you are welcomed with a warm hug. Little do you know that in a small community of strangers they are hearing the drumming and imagining that you are planning to go to war against them. you do not know that one of the strangers has already died and that your family is being blamed for the murder one of the drunken strangers actually committed, and as your friends and family fall into happy slumber, you never dream that men with guns are circling your home. When the night explodes with shouts and torchlight and gunfire, sleepy people burst from houses and run for the scrappy trees and beach grass and the water lilies in the slough. Children die and as men hide under the lilies, the strangers stand on the banks and wait for someone to come up for a breath. easy as shooting targets in a shooting gallery at the fair.
This actually happened in a time and place not that distant from where I sit at this keyboard.
One day I took a walk through the sun and sea air to the spot, and there was little to see. A deer saw me, some gulls flew over, the grass blew in a gentle breeze. But even a memorial was not possible without inviting looting and vandalism, so the families lay together in an unmarked grave, and peace had returned to Yontockett.
Feeling both the sadness, and the lingering memories of a time when this spot was a thriving village. I wrote this poem.
No-one should forget that a holocaust happened here. That in the 4 short years from1853 to 1856 a strong civilization was plunged from 10,000 individuals to a few hundred, but we should also remember that the Tolowa have lived here for millenia and celebrate that they live here still.
beneath the July sun you move
and peace and safety seem your world
bleached grasses grow on hills of sand
where Tolowa houses used to stand
a deer strolls along the crest
but sees us
and is gone
upon the wind soar red-tailed hawks
a goldfinch rides wind blown grass stalks
and in the slough beneath the hill
the sun shines on green lilies still
on clear water
this tale you tell is true and sad
your people have lost all they had
this shouldbe a haunted place
where no white man should show his face
and the water
should be red
and yet I sense a healing here
this place has known much more than fear
and though one night the village died
and her few survivors cried
the slaughter ended
we all are our memories
as are these hills bu changing seas
so as the sun calms storm tossed waves
the grass waves over unmarked graves
and you and I
and then begin again as friends
even huge sorrow one day ends
yes still your village mourns her dead
but chooses joyous memories instead
of many nights
when children laughed