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page 32

Charles Tarlton, USA


From the South

From the south they come,

The birds, the warlike birds,


With sounding wings.

I wish to change myself 

To the body of that swift bird.

I throw my body in the strife.

Chippewa War Poem
Harper's New Monthly Magazine
57 1878

So, we continue to come on the wings of war—gaunt, hungry eagle eyes vacuuming the prairie for kills. A shadow slides across hillock and sagebrush, up a dry creek bed, and on to the mountain in a single sweep. A natural weapon of unmerciful war, blood drops from its beak, its talons sharpened on the rocks with a quick hard scratching. Look! He dives a thousand feet straight down upon the pitiable victim. Not a sound.

old maps
detail
the locations
of indecisive battles
over new worlds

think of it!
the poetry of horses
six-shooters, bows-and-arrows
down wild canyons
into history

Each child tosses under a buffalo rug unable to sleep. The painted horses and their yelping riders already rode out into the dark and the dark closed behind them. The clatter of hoof beats softened in the sand of the dry river bed, and faded. Only dream images of war now, the children fitful.

rivers
of civilization drowned
that America
stranded
in a wilderness

signs of life
are deceptive
on the reservation
there are no more
warriors

Once, when I was eleven, armed with a Benjamin Pump .22, and carrying my pellets in a bullet pouch I'd made from the skin of a ground squirrel, I killed a red-tailed hawk for the glory of it. I shot him off a branch half way up a Eucalyptus at the edge of an orange grove. He fell like a stone and I pulled his body out of a navel orange tree. I buried him deep inside the grove under the trees away from the irrigation ditch, digging the hole with a war-surplus foxhole shovel. I never told a soul till now.

he was a young man
doomed by impatience
and his hot blood
longed for a rifle
and a foe

mysterious
predators over horizons
make us vigilant
eyes open
on the ramparts

Time brings changes on the wind; today was all one kind of negative thing—rain, we quarreled, the car broke down, and a dunning letter from the bank. My hopes for tomorrow include a kiss, bright hot sunshine, maybe a trip somewhere in a plane, or finding a dollar in the street. All these good things can come up from the south in my dreams—my mind just walks away for a minute to relocate itself somewhere lovelier.

one lost himself
in causes
preferring to flock
with starlings
he's no eagle

the other flies
upward
on ocean thermals
alone
looking down


line

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