Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday's poem: Peter Blue Cloud and the hidden transcipt

Reading Peter Blue Cloud's poem The Old Man Lazy is a profound experience. 

This is a powerfully political poem, but one that also speaks of the cosmology of Native people and the power of connection with the land and the earth. 

I laugh at the way the narrator resists and subverts the apparent power of the Indian agent.

The poem is a reminder that interactions between  the powerful and those they have some power over, are laden with deception. 

The Indian agent may have power to judge and sanction, but the Indian narrator has his own private discourse and set of meanings and actions that represent a critique of power spoken behind the back of the Indian agent.

The poem is a demonstration of what James Scott in his book Domination and the Art of Resistance calls the 'hidden transcript', a powerful form of ‘every day resistance’ to power. 

The 'hidden transcript' is the critique of power that is hidden, the thoughts, words and actions that occur out of sight, back stage or offstage, that the power holders neither see nor comprehend.

The Old Man's Lazy
by Peter Blue Cloud

I heard the Indian agent say,
has no pride, no get up
and go. Well, he came out
here and walked around my
place, that agent. Steps
all thru the milkweed and 
curing wormwood; tells me
my place is overgrown
and should be made use

The old split cedar 
fence stands at many
angles, and much of it
lies on the ground like
a curving sentence of
stick writing. An old
language, too, black with
age, with different
shades of green of moss
and lichen.
        He always says 
he understands us
         and why don't
I fix the fence at least;
so I took some fine
hawk feathers fixed
to a miniature woven
        and hung this
from an upright post
near the house.

came by last week
and looked all around
again, eyed the feathers
for along time
                    He didn't 
say anything, and he didn't
smile even, or look within
himself for the hawk.

Maybe sometime I'll 
tell him that the fence
isn't mine to begin with,
but was put up by
the white guy who used
to live next door.
                    It was
years ago. He built a cabin,
then put up the fence. He
only looked at me once
after his fence was up,
he nodded at me as if 
to show that he knew I
was here, I guess.
                   It was 
a pretty fence, enclosing
that guy, and I felt lucky
to be on the outside
of it.
                  Well that guy
dug holes all over his
place, looking for gold,
and I guess
                  he never
found any. I watched
him grow old for over
twenty years, and bitter,
I could feel his anger
all over the place.
that's when I took to
leaving my place to do
a lot of visiting.
one time I came home
and knew he was gone
for good.

My children would
always ask me why I
didn't move to town
and be closer to them.

Now they
tell me I'm lucky to be
living way out here
they bring their children
and come out and visit me,
and I can feel that they
want to live out here
too, but can't
for some reason, do it.

Each day
a different story is
told me by the fence,
the rain and wind and snow,
the sun and moon shadows,
this wonderful earth,
                     this Creation.
I tell my grandchildren
many of these stories,
this too is one of them

Peter Blue Cloud (1935-2011) is a Native American poet of the Turtle clan of the Canadian Mohawk Nation, a community that straddles the US-Canadian border.

In addition to poetry, Peter Blue Cloud worked in many genres- sculpture, painting, carving, folklore, writer and performance artist. 

He lived all over Canada and the US and worked as carpenter, logger, ranch hand, iron maker, archaeology field worker, writer, columnist, publisher and editor. He was a lifelong activist and campaigner for Native American rights.

As a poet, his work combines Native American cosmology and myth, with contemporary issues. He is noted for the use of the Coyote image in his work. 

He published several poetry collections including Clans of Many Nations, Elderberry Flute Song: Contemporary Coyote Tales, Sketches in Winter with Crows and White Cord Sister  . His poetry appears in many collections of Native American and Canadian Indian Poetry.

Some of his poetry has been put to music.

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