Tuesday, July 25, 2017

in Bill's sculpting hands

The Cherokee

I seek the Cherokee,
they who knew the woods and mountains of the Smokies
as if each were a part of the other,
I can start to hear them in the names that persist:
Cataloochee, Oconaluftee,
I can reach for them in the names
that are obscured by the juvenile naming
that honors white men who knew not
the mountain as a “thou” but as an “it,”

I embrace my favorite mountain
and work to see it as a great green frog,
huddled against the main range,
Walisiyi rather then LeConte,
named for a man who may not have even see it,

Duni'skwalgun'i, the whites called the Chimneys,
and the Cherokee knew as the antlers on a great deer,
their stories of up here full of wildness,

I chance into finding a Cherokee artist,
living at the edge of the reservation,
high up on a mountain
with the current heart of the tribe within a bowl 
below where he lives on the rim,

William Crowe makes me 7 masks out of buckeye,
one for each of the original clans:
Wolf, Deer, Bird, Paint, Long Hair, Wild Potato, and Blue,

I cannot even open them to my world for weeks,
until I feel I have the time and space to focus on them,
to consider what they can tell me of the Cherokee world,

I also have a flute Bill made
I would not even sound
until I felt ready enough to begin to appreciate it,

James Mooney loved the Cherokee
and recorded in words all that he could of their world,
and even he, with mountains of words,
only names the trees he can,
the forest never quite in view,

somehow I want to hold and learn from what the Cherokee knew,
to grasp at what was as basic to them as breath,

time can be a wind that tears us away from the roots,
I look back and grab to hold what swirls away,
I feel for The People,
they who have lost so much of who they were,
I seek the shadows of the old ones,
and from the shadows, learn what I can of what they knew,

in the creating of Bill’s sculpting hands,
the Cherokee still live.

by Henry H. Walker

July 20, ’17

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