Archive for March 25th, 2011

by lizard

I picked up a used copy of Simon Ortiz’s collection of poems, entitled Out There Somewhere last week, and in thumbing through I ran across a poem featuring a familiar landscape and a familiar character who many of you in Missoula will probably recognize.



Where are the Indians in this crummy town?

My temptation is to go up to the first white man I see
and say, “Where are all the Indians in your crummy town?”

One of the hills overlooking Missoula has a big white M painted on it.
And another hill not far away has a big L.

Once in a poem I wrote there were Indians everywhere.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it isn’t true.

In another poem in another crummy town I wrote
“I just want to climb that hill, cross the next river,
go through that clump of trees, and see the earth new again”
or something like that. But a good poem.

Maybe I was wrong.

An older white man at the corner of Higgins & Main mumbles
incoherently and hollers very loudly, “Burn!”

“Burn!” Very loudly. Then more incoherent mumbles.
And then “Burn!” even more loudly, in fact, yelling this time.

When I walk by him close to the curb I see he has a worn Bible
clutched tightly in a skinny hand held at his side.
His other hand waving weakly seems detached somehow.

I find myself trembling with a mix of fear, compassion, love.

Love? And compassion? Yes. And I know I was not wrong.

Looking past a tall bank building I see the hillsides again.
They’re there, painted with the M and the L, theyre there.

A poem I wrote called “Claiming Territory” says it was easy
to cross prairie hills, see all that land, proclaim “This is mine!”
The prairies and rivers did not say anything.
The mountains and hills did not say anything.
Everything was astounded and quieted in dismay.

Earlier that day on my way from the airport to the hotel,
the airport van driver said, “You see new stuff everywhere.
Everywhere you look new construction is going on.”

I wonder about that Wisconsin Horse standing quietly
looking through the chain-link fence watching
and watching America building something else.

That was just a poem I tell myself; it was just a poem.

Later, on my walk back to the hotel in Missoula, I don’t see
the white man with the Bible who was yelling “Burn” loudly
and strangely I miss his stark avenging presence.

“Why?” I ask myself. And answer myself: He’s the man
who would have told me where all the Indians were.

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