Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WAHSAH, by JOSEPH BRUCHAC



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WAHSAH, by            
First Line: Then old man spoke to the people
Last Line: We must answer: no!!!!
Variant Title(s): Wahsah Zeh (War Dance) - As Long As The Grass
Subject(s): Nuclear War; Atomic Bomb; Hydrogen Bomb


Then Old Man spoke to the people.
"Go and hide in our Mother," he said.
"The wind which comes will blow away your breath.
The rain which comes will burn your flesh.
Go and hide in our Mother," he said.

A cool morning in April.
I drive to work thinking.
The tiny fists of buds begin
to swell on trees beside the road.
The sap in the maple buckets turns yellow.
The grass edges its way to green.
These are things which can be seen,
but other forces touch my life,
more invisible than air itself
or greed which masters human hearts.

Woman who fell from the sky
Grandmother
Woman who fell from the sky
Grandmother

Who held the seeds of plants in her hand
Who fell to new earth on Turtle's back
Who held the good seeds of plants in her hand
Who fell to the Earth on Turtle's back

You, who gave birth, your children need you
You, who gave life, your grandchildren need you
You, who brought birth, your grandchildren need you
You, who brought life, your children need you

Less than 500 miles from here,
men and women work calmly near the Nuclear Plant.
They tell themselves, as they tell reporters,
that nothing is wrong, that American know-how
which sends rockets streaking, scrawls of chalk
across black space to distant planets,
can always control the monsters it creates.

They do not know the stories
of the Earth they live on,
have never heard of the Evil Mind
Longhouse People tell of in winterlodge tales.

They have never seen the Kinzua Dam
cover good corn land of the Seneca Nation,
graves of leaders, George Washington's word.

They have never seen Smallpox
smile from gift blankets,
seen beaches of Maui, Kaui and Hawaii
covered with 400,000 bodies,
limbs burned by the fire of western disease...
as the Mandan, Arikara enter the Sweat Lodge
and the pustules swell, swell up like a bubble
of radioactive hydrogen trapped
within the dome of a safe reactor.

And perhaps this nation knows no myths
and even the story of Mary Shelley's haunted flesh
means nothing more than a way to hold children
for an hour before the pale eye of commerce
whose rainbow dreams hypnotize away
all humanity which does not exist for profit.

And somehow
no one knows how
Karen Silkwood's car
goes off the road.
A thousand papers flutter about her,
they are the white swans who flew up from the water
to catch the woman who fell from the sky.
They are too late.

And somehow
no one knows how
when police arrive
the papers are gone
and the men of Kerr-McGee sleep soundly
and the red earth of Oklahoma
is Karen Silkwood's burying ground.

And somehow
no one knows how
there was plutonium contamination
in her bathroom
plutonium contamination
in her bedroom
plutonium contamination
in her food and perhaps
say the men at the Nuclear Plant
whose safety practices she had condemned
she intended to contaminate herself
to gain publicity
this is what they say
the men at Kerr-McGee
and do they sleep soundly?

This is a song of quiet anger,
of anger which will be quiet no longer.
If only, perhaps, they could watch just one finger
of their left hand begin to decay half an inch,
a tenth of an inch each time they absorbed
enough to shorten a life,
start the crazy quilt proliferation of leucocytes.
If only that, instead of numbers,
of dosimeter readings which measure a "4"
which they say is only as much radiation
as one would get from 200 chest x-rays.
Then they set "5" as the number safe
to absorb in one month.

Madame Curie,
patron saint
of luminous watches,
we honor you.

Madame Curie,
held up to me,
heroine of my childhood,
we honor you.

Madame Curie,
limbs thin as sticks,
hair falling out,
we honor you.

Because the spirit cannot be seen,
is it not there?
Tell me it is not there
when you see the body
of a human
which no longer holds it.
Tell me that breath is less important
than the color of skin, the clothing you wear,
the whiteness of teeth in a "sex-appeal" smile.

Woman who comes walking
Grandmother
Woman who comes walking
Grandmother

You wear a dress of white Buffalo Skin
You walk to us with visible breath
You wear the dress of white Buffalo Skin
You walk to us from four directions

White Buffalo Woman
White Buffalo Woman
White Buffalo Woman
White Buffalo Woman

You bring the Pipe,
the heart of the people
You bring the stone
the blood of the people
You bring the stem
the plants of the earth
You bring the tobacco
breath of the Creator

And of those who saw you coming
one whose heart was good
brought back life to the people,
one whose heart was bad,
who saw your body and not the beauty
of the gift you carried
who looked at you as corporations
look at the Earth, at the coal of Black Mesa,
at the oil shale of the Crow Reservation
at the North Slope of Alaska,
that one, that other one
fell to the Earth
fell to the Earth
to the Earth as bones
and worms crawled among his bones.

This is a song of anger
for the dream they are killing
is not just my own.
They eat the earth from beneath the feet
of our grandchildren's grandchildren.

Satanta, the great Kiowa chief,
said it more than a hundred years ago.
"You cut down the trees, kill the Buffalo,
you make the streams filthy
so that even you have no water to drink.
Are you people crazy?"
And in answer the army officers spat at his feet.

Let them kill themselves?
Is that what you say?
But the grave they dig is American,
a giant economy size, a family model,
the only product manufactured for profit
which does not have built-in obsolescence.

The half-life of radioactive wastes
manufactured by our nuclear plants
can be measured in tens of thousands of years.
The glaciers returned to the poles
but those will remain, faithful through the ages.

It is as if the poison which killed a Roman emperor
stayed in the air until today, killing every person
who breathed it.

It is as if the spear which wounded the side
of Christ still hung, invisible, on the hill
of Golgotha, goring every living creature
which came close to that place.

It is as if the stone Cain hurled
against his brother were orbiting, a tiny evil moon,
striking down guilty and innocent from that time on.

And the Sun
watches

We do not see him.
We do not accept the gift offered freely.
There is no profit in solar power.
There is power in the reactor's poison.
There is profit in oil, in coal, in the rape
of our Mother to bring forth her black blood
and bones burning in factories, smoke choking sky
acid rain weeping into mountain lakes,
trout dying, trees dying, the water bitter.

And Grandmother Moon
fills up the night,
Grandmother Moon fills even our dreams
with the light of Sun
the light they have not seen

A man is about to leap from a ledge.
He is not trying to kill himself.
He swears he will be able to fly.
Some believe him, some know
he is a fool, but no one stops him.
They all stand by
as he leaps to the crowded street below,
even though, strapped to his back
as if it could lift him into flight,
is a case of dynamite.

This poem is a poem of anger.
This poem calls back those of the past.
It calls back Powhatan
it calls back Madakwando
it calls back Pontiac
it calls back Tecumseh
it calls back Dragging Canoe
it calls back Osceola
it calls back Captain Jack
it calls back Chief Joseph
it calls back Cochise
it calls back Dull Knife
it calls back Satank
it calls back Looking Glass
it calls back Crazy Horse
it calls back Sitting Bull

Tatanka Iyotake
Tatanka Iyotake
Tatanka Iyotake
Tatanka Iyotake

It calls all those whose spirits never left us
It calls all those whose spirits never left us
It calls all those whose spirits never left us
It calls all those whose spirits never left us

GER O NI MO
GER O NI MO
GER O NI MO
GER O NI MO

There are no mountains in which to hide
from the rain which will fall.
No one can dodge the bullets of this gun
which kills even the hand which fires it.

This poem calls back Ayontwantha.
This poem calls back the Peacemaker.
This poem will say the sacred names.
It calls all those who love the Earth,
calls both living and dead on Turtle's back.

It calls the Bear Mothers
It calls Gluskabe
It calls Grandmother Spider
It calls Manabozho
It calls Coyote
It calls Moon, our Grandmother
It calls the Manitous
It calls the Thunderbird
It calls the Kachinas
It calls the Thunderers

HE NO
HE NO
HE NO
HE NO

Grandfathers
wash the Earth
Grandmothers
wash the minds
of those who do not believe in circles

Grandfathers, take them,
make their minds straight
Grandmothers, take them,
make their hearts good.

Listen, all of us who love our children
Listen, all of us who love our land
Listen, all of us who love our parents
Listen, all of us who love our friends

All of us are "Indian" now
The treaty not made is the only one
which might never be broken.
It promises waste, it promises death
for as long as the rivers run
for as long as the grass shall grow

We must answer: No.
We must answer: No.
We must answer: No.
WE MUST ANSWER: NO!!!!





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