The Return of Hiawatha

Michael Peach

(a tribute to Henry Longfellow)

From the land of the Hereafter,
From the kingdom of Ponemah,
From the Islands of the Blessèd,
From the regions of the home-wind,
Hiawatha the belovèd
All at once returned one morning
To the dirty Big-Sea-Water,
To the shore of Gitche Gumee,
To a city, vast and noisy.
   In his eyes the tears were glistening,
For the vision he’d related
To the people, ere departing,
Of the White-man’s truth and wisdom,
Knew he now had been a mirage:
Only fools could build such dwellings,
Fell the forests, foul the waters,
Fill the earth and air with boxes,
Noisy, fuming, metal boxes,
Rushing hither, dashing thither,
On the ground and in the heavens,
Killing creatures in their pathway.
Wounded seemed the sky above him;
Wounded seemed the earth beneath him;
Stained and foul the air around him,
Filled with sharp and smoky vapours
From the roaring metal boxes.
And his heart beat fast within him,
Like a startled bird his heart was.
   Knew he too his own Red brothers
Had been scattered by the White-man
(Not by warring with each other);
Blown about in all directions,
Like the fallen leaves of Autumn;
Dumped at last in “reservations”.
Others, as his own relation
(Lily, linked to Minnehaha)
And her husband whom he hunted,
Dwelt in cities, such as this one
On the shore of Gitche Gumee,
Gitche Gumee, Big-Sea-Water.

Big Jim’s Drinking

Once Big Jim had been a leader
In the local reservation;
Youngest chief of the Ojibways,
Greatest poet of the language,
Much respected by his people.
But, alas, he’d started drinking,
When the habitat was ravaged
By the mining and the logging,
By the vandals from the city.
Since he’d left the reservation,
Many there had been corrupted –
By the sick consumer culture,
By the television networks,
By the global urban vices.
   Jim himself, now in the city,
Had with help from certain gangsters
Bought at length The Red Casino
On the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the dirty Big-Sea-Water:
Not to help his bankrupt people,
Not to fund their children’s schooling,
Not to aid the sick and homeless,
Nor the agèd and the jobless,
But for merely selfish profit –
Riches, power, wayward women.
Yet in truth himself he’d hated
For his egotistic actions;
For the fact his wife he’d cheated,
Faithful Lily, a Dakota
(Hiawatha’s own relation,
Linked by blood to Minnehaha).
This in time had led to breakdown,
Led to failure in Jim’s business,
Closure of The Red Casino.
   Finished were his wild adventures,
Finished were his tricks and gambols,
Finished all his craft and cunning,
Finished all his mischief-making,
All his gambling and his cheating,
All his wooing of the women.
All was finished but his drinking
And his steadfast love for Lily.
   Most beloved, indeed, by many
Was exotic, gentle Lily,
She the best of all musicians,
She the sweetest of all singers.
Beautiful and childlike was she,
Innocent, despite life’s evils;
Loving, even though she suffered;
Faithful to the heart’s own wisdom.
When she sang, the gamblers listened;
All the drunkards gathered round her,
All the hookers came to hear her;
Now she stirred their souls to passion,
Now she melted them to pity.
All the hardened hearts were softened
By the pathos of her music;
For she sang of peace and justice,
Sang of nature, love, and longing,
Sang of death, and life’s great mystery,
Sang of freedom for God’s creatures.
For her gentleness they loved her,
And the magic of her singing.
Every suitor she rejected,
Even those without a record,
Even those who never gambled
(Handsome men with well-earned savings,
Sober men with ample credit),
Saying firmly, yet politely,
“I am happy with my husband”:
For the tender, faithful Lily
Saw Jim’s naked heart and loved him,
Saw the mystery of his passion;
Felt his sadness and potential;
Heard the poet deep within him.

Hiawatha’s Wooing

Hiawatha found Jim lying
In an almost bare apartment;
Lying sprawled upon the sofa,
Staring hard in pensive sadness
At a vision on the ceiling
Of the life he should have followed.
   When Jim noticed Hiawatha,
Dressed in garments old and sacred,
Coming through the dancing twilight,
Through the margin of his vision,
He was gripped by sudden terror,
For he thought that Death had found him.
   Standing in the open doorway,
Hiawatha looked with pity,
Looked with mercy and compassion
On this wasted, drunken giant.
Then, in accents like the soughing
Of the West-wind in the tree-tops,
In Ojibway spoke the herald,
Said he, “O my fallen brother,
Rise and listen to this message
From the Maker, The Great Spirit.”
Sober all at once and straightened,
Jim, the great Ojibway poet,
Asked no questions of the stranger;
Simply stood with steadfast aspect,
As he listened to the message.
    “I shall tell you,” said the herald,
Said the noble Hiawatha,
“How to find eternal wisdom;
Where to seek the truths that matter,
All the ways that are forgotten,
All the unremembered customs:
On the mountainsides and prairies,
On or in the lakes and rivers,
In the moorlands and the valleys,
In the marshes and the fenlands,
In the forests and the meadows
Wolves and grizzlies, eagles, bison,
Red-deer, beavers, squirrels, rabbits,
Grouse and wild-geese, herons, plovers,
Blue-birds, pheasants, swallows, robins,
Through their whole and faithful natures,
Will provide you with the answers –
Show you how to be a human.
For like theirs your life is founded
On essential, natural rhythms,
On eternal, sacred cycles,
On the laws of The Creator,
Laws the White-man seeks to alter.
   “You must call the chiefs together,
Clearly state this simple message,
Make them face the truths they shrink from.
If they hearken to your counsels,
They could start a revolution
That might turn the wayward White-man,
Turn him back to wholesome nature;
Heal his hubris and his madness.
This I can predict for certain,
If these warnings pass unheeded,
Human life will fade and perish!”
   Having uttered all he wished to,
Hiawatha bowed in silence;
Bowed to Jim, who stood there gravely,
Knowing that he had been chosen
By the Maker, The Great Spirit,
To unite his fractious people.
    As he left the dingy building,
Face to face came Hiawatha
With a handsome, dark-eyed woman.
For a moment each stood staring
At the other in amazement,
Due to his and her appearance;
Then she smiled, while Hiawatha
Contemplated his relation
With a proud look and benignant,
With an attitude paternal;
Looked with joy upon the beauty
Of her firm and graceful figure,
Jet-black tresses, noble forehead:
Minnehaha’s spit and image!
All the latter’s charm and splendour,
All her tenderness of spirit,
All the mystery of her being,
Were apparent in this Lily.
    As he made for Gitche Gumee,
Through the loud, polluted city,
Hiawatha mused with pleasure
On his own belovèd partner
In this world and the Hereafter –
Laughing Water, Minnehaha.

Big Jim’s Address

To a park in that vast city
Where the country’s laws are drafted,
Jim, the now acknowledged prophet,
Called the Indian chiefs together,
Called the leaders to a council.
    Down the highways, through the airways,
Came the chieftains of the nations,
Of the Delawares and Mohawks,
Of the Choctaws and Comanches,
Of the Shoshones and Blackfeet,
Of the Pawnees and Omahas,
Of the Mandans and Dakotas,
Of the Hurons and Ojibways,
Of the Hopis and Apaches;
All the leaders drawn together
By the call of Jim the prophet
To a park in that vast city
Where the country’s laws are drafted.
    And they sat there on the meadow,
With their mobile phones and lap-tops,
Wildly glaring at the prophet;
In their faces grim defiance,
In their hearts the grave suspicion,
The hereditary anguish,
The ancestral hurt and sadness.
Jim the giant stretched his right hand,
To appease their troubled natures,
To allay their guilt and anger,
Greed, contempt for self and others;
Spoke to them with voice majestic:
    “O my brothers! my dear brothers!
Listen to these words of healing,
Listen to these words of warning,
That we chiefs may teach our people
Truths regarding human nature
Fashioned so by The Great Spirit;
Customs they have long forgotten,
Owing to their persecution;
Laws the White-man has rejected,
Thus ensuring Earth’s destruction;
Knowledge of the sacred cycles
Underlying all Creation;
That there may be bear and bison,
Red and reindeer, hawk and heron,
Marshes full of singing wild-fowl,
Rivers full of gleaming fishes.
For our lives depend on these things!
    “I am saddened by our quarrels,
Saddened by our abject drinking,
By our gambling and despondence;
By our aping urban culture,
Culture ever in declension.
Evil reigns in Western countries,
Led by this one, much the strongest:
In the name of natural science
And their goddess, so-called Progress,
White-men resurrect black magic,
Cheating nature, taking shortcuts,
Rearranging sacred forces,
Turning spirit into matter,
Making Earth the Hell once dreaded
By their Christian antecedents;
Rushing, dashing, toiling, striving,
Leaving everywhere their footprints,
Running over silent creatures,
Trampling on the unknown flowers,
Trying, yet, to grasp the genome,
Penetrate the protean atom,
Vanquish Death through engineering,
Disentitle The Great Spirit.
    “They, the brave new world’s magicians,
Change the seas from blue to crimson,
Fill the air with poisonous vapours,
Alter climate and the seasons,
Nullify the precious ozone,
Build in space a monstrous station,
So to spy like gods on mortals.
You can see their black offences
Stretching into the hereafter!
    “All the vices of the city,
All the decadent perversions,
Bring they to the tribal peoples
Through the global TV channels,
Through the Internet and movies,
Through ‘hard rock’ and ‘heavy metal’;
Thus bombarding vital ethics,
Undermining decent values,
Stealing children from their parents.
    “Great, white ‘sharks’ control the Market,
Guarded by the politicians,
By the freedom of the Market
In the clichèd ‘global village’,
Better named the ‘global city’.
All they touch becomes polluted
Or consumed and thus exhausted;
They it is who starve the peasants,
Forcing them to flee to cities;
They it is who fell the forests,
Wiping out endangered species.
As with never-sated vultures,
Multi-national corporations
Scan each other’s sordid motions.
When the first swoops down, the others
Follow swiftly, gathering flockwise
Round their helpless, ‘Third World’ victims;
Feeding thus on human weakness,
Weakness caused by sick illusions.
If these monstrous corporations
Keep on growing ever larger,
Grabbing everything they covet,
Using up the earth’s resources,
Filling all the world with garbage,
Nothing will be left but corpses!
    “For the profit of our nations,
For advantage of all peoples,
I, who used to drink and gamble,
Wish to warn you; and instruct you
How to gain what we have prayed for,
How to free ourselves from evil;
Free the White-man from his hubris
And his fatal paranoia:
As the dock-leaf to the nettle,
As the antidote to poison,
So the wilderness to city,
So the Red-man to the White-man.
    “We must pray and fast together,
Learn to live and toil together,
That our bodies, filled with poisons
Purchased from the multi-nationals,
And our minds, enmeshed in networks,
Struggling blindly in the darkness,
Might be touched by The Great Spirit,
And be lifted up and strengthened.
    “We must love the haunts of Nature,
Love the forests and the prairies,
Love the great lakes of the Northland,
Love the mountains, moors, and fenlands,
Love the works of The Creator,
That we may with awe and wonder
See the stars through darkness shining
In the icy nights of Winter,
See the moon from water rising
Like a splendid, pregnant woman,
See the florid rainbow gleaming
Through the clouds so black and sombre;
Smell the sap and resin surging,
Spilling, after bursts in springtime,
Smell the dew at twilight lying
Softly on the luscious meadows,
Smell the prairie flowers blooming
Midst the graceful summer grasses;
Hear the mighty rivers rushing
In profound and timeless canyons,
Hear the lakes, when gently lapping,
Moved by sighs of tender breezes,
Hear at dawn the kingbirds singing,
Followed by the general chorus.
“We must know the herbs of healing,
As did once our skilful shamans;
Learn of every beast its language,
Learn its name and all its secrets,
How the beavers build their lodges,
Where the squirrels hide their acorns,
How the reindeer run so swiftly,
Why the rabbits are so timid;
Talk with them whene’er we meet them,
Show them humans are their brothers.
    “When we know again these secrets,
We will be more fully human;
And will grow as nature wishes,
Till we gain the highest wisdom
Of the agèd, long since banished
By the narcissistic peoples,
By the selfish Earth-consumers.
If you listen to my counsels,
You could start the revolution
That might heal this wounded planet,
That might let our children flourish.
If these warnings go unheeded,
All the trees will be exploited,
Air and water quite polluted,
Wild-life utterly diminished,
Global warming unabated;
Human life will surely perish!”
    While Jim spoke the chiefs were silent,
Silent as the dew when falling;
With each word they felt new courage
Throbbing in their brains and bosoms,
Felt new hope and spring-like vigour
Course through every nerve and fibre;
Thus the more the prophet spouted,
All the stronger grew the chieftains.
And Big Jim continued speaking
Till the sun at last descended,
Till the twilight danced around him,
Till the dusk dissolved his features.
Then he made this last entreaty:
    “Let us go back to our loved ones,
Live among them, strive among them;
Cleanse the earth of all that harms it,
So God’s creatures may yet flourish,
Global warming yet be halted,
Ozone layer be replenished,
Urban jungle be transmuted,
White-man healed and thence the planet.”
    Homeward now went all the chieftains,
Feeling whole and full of vigour;
For the hurt, despair and anger,
Greed, contempt for self and others,
Had departed truly from them,
From their brains the thought of vengeance,
From their hearts the aching sadness.
All of them were now determined
To acknowledge The Great Spirit,
To make peace with Mother Nature,
To protect their wives and children;
To begin the global healing.

21 March 2001

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