Sonnets from the Cherokee (III)

What is this nameless something that I want,
Forever groping blindly, without light,—
A ghost of pain that does forever haunt
My days, and make my heart eternal night?
I think it is your face I so long for,
Your eyes that read my soul at one warm glance;
Your lips that I may touch with mine no more
Have left me in their stead a thrusting lance
Of fire that burns my lips and sears my heart
As all the dreary wanton years wear through
Their hopeless dragging days. No lover’s art
Can lift full, heavy sorrow from my view
Or still my restless longing, purge my hate,
Because I learned I loved you, dear, too late. 

The Hunter’s Wooing

Come roam the wild hills, my Cherokee Rose, 
Come roam the wild hills with me. 
We’ll follow the path where the Spavinaw flows, 
Dashing wild on its way to the sea, 
On its wearisome way to the sea. 
We’ll chase the fleet deer from its lair in the woods;
We’ll follow the wolf to his den. 

When the sun hides his face, we’ll rest in the woods;
Hid away from the worry of men. 
Hid away from the bother of men. 

And then we’ll go home, my Cherokee Rose,
Where the Senecas live in the heart of the hills
By the rippling Cowskin, where the Saulchana grows, 
We’ll go home to the Coyauga hills, 
To the sheltering Coyauga hills. 

Songs of the Spavinaw

I am the river of Spavinaw,
    I am the river of pain;
Sadness and gladness must answer my law;
Measure for measure I give, and withdraw
Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,
    Hiding away from the plain.

I am the river of Spavinaw;
    I sing the songs of the world;
Dashing and whirling, swishing and swirling,
Delicate, mystical, silvery spray hurling,
    Sing I the songs of the world,
    The passionate songs of the world.

I sing of laughter and mirth,
    And I laugh in a gurgle of glee
As the myriad joys of the earth
    Trip through the light with me.
Gay shallows dimple, sparkle and ripple.
    Like songs that a lover would sing,
      Skipping in moonlight,
      Tripping in moonlight,
    Whispering echoes of spring.

And again
    I move with the slow sadness of pain.
In my dark blue deep, where the shadows creep,
    I catch up life’s sorrows and mirror them back again.
And my song is a throbbing, pitiful sobbing,
    Choked by an agonized pain.

And then
    I move forth toward the beckoning north,
       And I sing of the power of men.
           As I dash down my falls,
           As I beat at my walls
Frantically fighting, running and righting,
All through the flood, through the snarling and biting,
       I sing of the power of men,
       Of the hurry and power of men.

       I am the river of Spavinaw,
       I am the giver of pain;
Sadness and gladness must answer my law;
Measure for measure I give, and withdraw
Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,
       Hiding away from the plain.

If You Knew

If you could know the empty ache of loneliness,
          Masked well behind the calm indifferent face
Of us who pass you by in studied hurriedness,
          Intent upon our way, lest in the little space
Of one forgetful moment hungry eyes implore
          You to be kind, to open up your heart a little more,
I’m sure you’d smile a little kindlier, sometimes,
          To those of us you’ve never seen before.

If you could know the eagerness we’d grasp
          The hand you’d give to us in friendliness;
What vast, potential friendship in that clasp
          We’d press, and love you for your gentleness;
If you could know the wide, wide reach
          Of love that simple friendliness could teach,
I’m sure you’d say “Hello, my friend,” sometimes, 
          And now and then extend a hand in friendliness to each.

Related Poems

How the Milky Way Was Made

My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take

       anything it could wet—in a wild rush—

                                 all the way to Mexico.

Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,

pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers

      in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —

      ‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,

                                Colorado pikeminnow—

Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—

      god-large, gold-green sides,

                                moon-white belly and breast—

making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.

The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called

      ‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—

                                our words for Milky Way.

Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet

      and empty, slung over his back—

                                a prisoner blue and dreaming

of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth

      as it gives itself away to the universe

                                of a sweet-milk body.

Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads

      of your throat and thighs.

The Call of the Wild

I’m tired of the gloom  

In a four-walled room;  

Heart-weary, I sigh  

For the open sky,  

And the solitude  

Of the greening wood;  

Where the bluebirds call,  

And the sunbeams fall,  

And the daisies lure 

The soul to be pure.  

 

I’m tired of the life 

In the ways of strife;  

Heart-weary, I long  

For the river’s song,  

And the murmur of rills  

In the breezy hills;  

Where the pipe of Pan— 

The hairy half-man— 

The bright silence breaks  

By the sleeping lakes.   

Compass

I let him do what he will to me—
we are traveling into the waves
and the ocean is torn by swells.

I am cautious. The moon,
it can barely be sensed,
it cannot be helped.

I learned something, I am learning.
I am untangling a rope.
I am caught by a breaking wave.

The boat is rolling from side to side
I tell of my going to town—
What he threw broke through,

it has broken away.

 

Translated into English from Inupiaq by the poet.

 

Taktugziun

Manimaiga—
maliŋniagratugut
mallatuq.

Nuyaqtuŋa. Taqqiq,
ikpiŋanailaq,
iluilaq.

Ilisiruŋa, ilita.tuŋa.
Ilaiyairuŋa akłunaamiik.
Qaaġaaŋa.

Uaałukitaaqtuq umiaq.
Quliaqtuŋa aptauqtuaŋa—
Iitaaga pularuq.

ilaŋa.tuq.