Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BLACK EAGLE RETURNS TO ST. JOE, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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BLACK EAGLE RETURNS TO ST. JOE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This way and that way measuring
Last Line: I was a swift runner whom they tripped.
Subject(s): Native Americans; Indians Of America; American Indians; Indians Of South America

This way and that way measuring,
Sighting from tree to tree,
And from the bend of the river.
This must be the place where Black Eagle
Twelve hundred moons ago
Stood with folded arms,
While a Pottawatomie father
Plunged a knife in his heart,
For the murder of a son.
Black Eagle stood with folded arms,
Slim, erect, firm, unafraid,
Looking into the distance, across the river.
Then the knife flashed,
Then the knife crashed through his ribs
And into his heart.
And like a wounded eagle's wings
His arms fell, slowly unfolding,
And he sank to death without a groan!

And my name is Black Eagle too.
And I am of the spirit,
And perhaps of the blood
Of that Black Eagle of old.
I am naked and alone,
But very happy;
Being rich in spirit and in memories.
I am very strong.
I am very proud,
Brave, revengeful, passionate.
No longer deceived, keen of eye,
Wise in the ways of the tribes:
A knower of winds, mists, rains, snows, changes.
A knower of balsams, simples, blossoms, grains.
A knower of poisonous leaves, deadly fungus, berries.
A knower of harmless snakes,
And the livid copperhead.
Lastly a knower of the spirits,
For there are many spirits:
Spirits of hidden lakes,
And of pine forests.
Spirits of the dunes,
And of forested valleys.
Spirits of rivers, mountains, fields,
And great distances.
There are many spirits
Under the Great Spirit.
Him I know not.
Him I only feel
With closed eyes.
Or when I look from my bed of moss by the river
At a sky of stars,
When the leaves of the oak are asleep.
I will fill this birch bark full of writing
And hide it in the cleft of an oak,
Here where Black Eagle fell.
Decipher my story who can:

When I was a boy of fourteen
Tobacco Jim, who owned many dogs,
Rose from the door of his tent
And came to where we were running,
Young Coyote, Rattler, Little Fox,
And said to me in their hearing:
"You are the fastest of all.
Now run again, and let me see.
And if you can run
I will make you my runner,
I will care for you,
And you shall have pockets of gold." ...

And then we ran.
And the others lagged behind me,
Like smoke behind the wind.
But the faces of Young Coyote, Rattler, Little Fox
Grew dark.
They nudged each other.
They looked side-ways,
Toeing the earth in shame....
Then Tobacco Jim took me and trained me.
And he went here and there
To find a match.
And to get wagers of ponies, nuggets of copper,
And nuggets of gold.
And at last the match was made.

It was under a sky as blue as the cup of a harebell,
It was by a red and yellow mountain,
It was by a great river
That we ran.
Hundreds of Indians came to the race.
They babbled, smoked and quarreled.
And everyone carried a knife,
And everyone carried a gun.
And we runners --
How young we were and unknowing
What the race meant to them!
For we saw nothing but the track,
We saw nothing but our trainers
And the starters.
And I saw no one but Tobacco Jim.
But the Indians and the squaws saw much else.
They thought of the race in such different ways
From the way we thought of it.
For with me it was honor,
It was triumph,
It was fame.
It was the tender looks of Indian maidens
Wherever I went.
But now I know that to Tobacco Jim,
And the old fathers and young bucks
The race meant jugs of whiskey,
And new guns.
It meant a squaw,
A pony,
Or some rise in the life of the tribe.

So the shot of the starter rang at last,
And we were off.
I wore a band of yellow around my brow
With an eagle's feather in it,
And a red strap for my loins.
And as I ran the feather fluttered and sang:
"You are the swiftest runner, Black Eagle,
They are all behind you."
And they were all behind me,
As the cloud's shadow is behind
The bend of the grass under the wind.
But as we neared the end of the race
The onlookers, the gamblers, the old Indians,
And the young bucks,
Crowded close to the track --
I fell and lost.

Next day Tobacco Jim went about
Lamenting his losses.
And when I told him they tripped me
He cursed them.
But later he went about asking in whispers
If I was wise enough to throw the race.
Then suddenly he disappeared.
And we heard rumors of his riches,
Of his dogs and ponies,
And of the joyous life he was leading.

Then my father took me to New Mexico,
And here my life changed.
I was no longer the runner,
I had forgotten it all.
I had become a wise Indian.
I could do many things.
I could read the white man's writing
And write it.

And Indians flocked to me:
Billy the Pelican, Hooked Nosed Weasel,
Hungry Mole, Big Jawed Prophet,
And many others.
They flocked to me, for I could help them.
For the Great Spirit may pick a chief,
Or a leader.
But sometimes the chief rises
By using wise Indians like me
Who are rich in gifts and powers ...

But at least it is true:
All little great Indians
Who are after ponies,
Jugs of whiskey and soft blankets
Gain their ends through the gifts and powers
Of wise Indians like me.
They come to you and ask you to do this,
And to do that.
And you do it, because it would be small
Not to do it.
And until all the cards are laid on the table
You do not see what they were after,
And then you see:
They have won your friend away;
They have stolen your hill;
They have taken your place at the feast;
They are wearing your feathers;
They have much gold.
And you are tired, and without laughter.
And they drift away from you,
As Tobacco Jim went away from me.
And you hear of them as rich and great.
And then you move on to another place,
And another life.

Billy the Pelican has built him a board house
And lives in Guthrie.
Hook Nosed Weasel is a Justice of the Peace.
Hungry Mole had his picture in the Denver News;
He is helping the government
To reclaim stolen lands.
(Many have told me it was Hungry Mole
Who tripped me in the race.)
Big Jawed Prophet is very rich.
He has disappeared as an eagle
With a rabbit.
And I have come back here
Where twelve hundred moons ago
Black Eagle before me
Had the knife run through his ribs
And through his heart....

I will hide this writing
In the cleft of the oak
By this bend in the river.
Let him read who can:
I was a swift runner whom they tripped.

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