To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From Shaking the Pumpkin (7): Translations and Variations by Armand Schwerner

after Franz Boas, Keresan Texts

long ago her mother
had to sing this song and so
she had to grind along with it
the Corn People have a song too
it is very good
I refuse to tell it

after Paul Emil Victor, Poèmes Eskimo

I was out in my kayak
I was out at sea in it
I was paddling
very gently in the fjord Ammassivik
there was ice in the water
and on the water a petrel
turned his head this way that way
didn't see me paddling
Suddenly nothing but his tail
then nothingHe plunged but not for me:
huge head upon the water
great hairy seal
giant head with giant eyes, moustache
all shining and dripping
and the seal came gently toward me
Why didn't I harpoon him?
was I sorry for him?
was it the day, the spring day, the seal
playing in the sunlike me?

after Paul Emil Victor, Poemes Eskimo

husband and wife we loved each other then
we do now
there was a time
each found the other

but a few days ago maybe yesterday
she saw in the black lake water
a sickening face
a wracked old woman face
wrinkled full of spots

I saw it she says
that shape in the water
the spirit of the water
wrinkled and spotted

and who'd seen that face before
wrinkled full of spots?
wasn't it me
and isn't it me now
when I look at you? -

after Paul Emil Victor, Poemes Eskimo

all these heads these ears these eyes
around me
how long will the ears hear me?
and those eyes how long
will they look at me?
when these ears won't hear me any more
when these eyes turn aside from my eyes
I'll eat no more raw liver with fat
and those eyes won't see me any more
and my hair my hair will have disappeared

after Leo J. Trachtenberg, Alsea Texts and Myths

come out come out come out
the moon has been killed

who kills the moon? crow
who often kills the moon? eagle
who usually kills the moon? chicken hawk
who also kills the moon? owl
in their numbers they assemble
for moonkilling

come out, throw sticks at your houses
come out, turn your buckets over
spill out all the water don't let it turn
bloody yellow
from the wounding and death
of the moon

o what will become of the world, the moon
never dies without cause
only when a rich man is about to be killed
is the moon murdered

look all around the world, dance, throw your sticks, help out,
look at the moon, dark as it is now, even if it disappears
it will come back, think of nothing
I'm going back into the house

and the others went back

after Ruth Underhill, Papago Indian Religion

I'd run about
on the desert
me a young girl fierce to see
whatever I could. My heart
was not cool.
When there was no Coyote
I saw Coyote
then a spider
on the house-post, the central one,
stopped to look at me, just
ready to speak.
I made a song, about Coyote.
A shaman sang over me, to find out.
And when he spoke Father said ­ -- No
one shaman in the house is enough --­
my body already sheltered
the divining crystals, growing in my body.
The shaman bent over me he sucked them one by one
out of my breast
they were long
like the joints of my pinkie, white and moving like worms
o the shaman said See I've taken them out
before they got big
He made a hole in a giant cactus
and put them away, inside

These workings of Schwerner's were originally published in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas and are assembled with a number of others in his selected shorter poems (Junction Press, 1999). The impact of the ethnopoetic imagination on his masterwork, The Tablets, was clear from the beginnings of that project, itself a work of the ethnopoetic imagination.

Shaking the Pumpkin, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years. The translations here are printed with some minor modifications to conform to blogger format. A fuller selection can be found at ubuweb ethnopoetics:

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