Jennifer Reeser is the author of four books of poetry, including Sonnets from the Dark Lady and Other Poems (2012) and The Lalaurie Horror (2013). X.J. Kennedy wrote that her debut “ought to have been a candidate for a Pulitzer.” Her poems and translations of French and Russian literature have appeared in POETRY, Recours au Poeme, The National Review, and anthologies including Everyman’s, Measure for Measure, Longman’s An Introduction to Poetry, , and Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology. Her translations of Anna Akhmatova are authorized by FTM Agency, Moscow. Reeser’s own work has been translated into Persian, Czech and Hindi. Thes poems are from her collection, “INDIGENOUS,” forthcoming from Saint James Infirmary Books. Her website is www.jenniferreeser.com
Jacob Surber, Indian Spy
Why, my distant ancestor, has none spoken
Ever once extolling your name in writing –
Either as a hero, or as a token?
You deserve epics.
Jacob Surber, Indian spy and rebel –
Too fantastic or overly familiar
Lies Virginia’s gray Shenandoah pebble,
Quaint beyond telling.
Frayed to quick antiquity’s aqua polish
Live the maverick hills and lavish valleys –
Soon persuading the artist to demolish
All but the vision.
Who does justice to such romantic scenery?
Norman Rockwell, when imitating Titian,
Tracing red through both suave and savage greenery,
Might be successful.
Jacob Surber, grandfather, mole – appearing
Now within my informed imagination,
Light and shadow compete within a clearing
Over your features.
Native agent, after your own kind, under
Springtime orders coming from Captain Denton,
You are freely ranging through mountain thunder,
Killing your brothers.
Here inside me, your genes, your motivation
Move anew, reporting to far Fort Wendall –
Bringing forth a rebellious, newborn nation,
Wounding, taking prisoners, next dispersing
Tories, marching to the Burnt Ordinary,
You surrender never. I hear you cursing
Despot and bondage;
Shot by musket ball in the left-side shoulder,
Shaking hands with Washington after Yorktown –
Fading while indigenous winds grow colder,
Spare as a specter.
On a Portrait of Chief Joseph
A monolith of common sense and stricture,
descended from the people of Nez Perce,
Grandfather Neeley hung Chief Joseph’s picture
above the famous quote, so like a verse
of undisputed poetry, I enter
the sleeping room as though it were a church,
a portrait of Saint Peter at its center,
or like I would the lightning-scarred white birch
Ojibwe say we got from Thunderbird
when Waynaboozhoo — son of streaming air —
stole a single spark of fire, and stirred
the ire of him who had refused to share.
In other words, as though some sacred bark
surrounded me, beside the quilted bed
where white chenille illuminates the dark,
reminding me, I stand before the dead.
This sentence — so sublime, I cannot sever
its meaning from the sound of falling water:
“My chieftains, I shall fight no more forever,”
without one scalp, one squaw, one senseless slaughter.
A golden, oval, antique frame encloses
the fur-trimmed braids against his necklace bands,
no evidence of those acclaimed pierced noses
on Joseph’s words, “From where the sun now stands….”
The phrase stills and allays this bloody war
inside of me, between the Red and White.
No foot of either race can run before,
“I’m tired. No more — forever — will I fight.”
“…too clumsy, too monstrous, too unnatural to be touched by the Poet… the monstrous traditions of an uninteresting and, one may almost say, a justly exterminated race…Indian legends, like Indian arrowheads, are well enough to hang up in cabinets for the delectation of the curious…” — The New York Times.
Grandmother oftentimes, dressed in her floral gown
And downy slippers, talked about that nearby town,
Chilhowie (“valley filled with deer” in Cherokee),
Which shares its name with a mountain found in Tennessee.
The Cherokee, before the tragic Trail of Tears,
Inhabited that country for eight hundred years.
They held a legend in that valley full of deer,
About a freak whose right forefinger was a spear.
How many centuries? One wonders. Who is counting?
This monster, for its refuge, chose Chilhowie Mountain.
Its body, with the density of ancient stone,
Adored to sit atop the barren crest alone –
Except one friend, the raven, whom it kept along,
To whom it sang – through fog and clouds – an eerie song.
It echoed from the peak, to reach the peaceful river:
“Uwe la na tsiku. Su sa sai: The liver,
I eat,” It sang and danced atop Chilhowie’s crest –
Its heart well-hidden in its wrist, not in its breast;
Protected by its hand, and undetected under
Its finger’s spear, it beat to laughter loud as thunder.
The hunters of the Cherokee would lift their sight,
The boulders shifting wickedly, while birds took flight.
They warned the children not to trust an aging stranger –
“Utlunta prowls around the trails, a skilled shape-changer
Who knows your aunt’s familiar form, and may appear,
To lure you near, and stab you with her right-hand spear.
Because she has a villager-grandmother’s gait –
Stunted and shuffling, slow and limping – she will wait
Until she sees our forest fires, whose masking smoke
Allows her to slip past the gently fairy folk,
Nunnehi , in her terrifying silver veil
Which curves around that blade she uses to impale.
Sharp as an onyx knife, and lengthy as a dagger,
And slender, as she she slashes at the air, to stagger
And stare at its fair glint, and with a tired tread
Which tries for lightness, down the mountain she will thread,
Where fallen, roasted autumn chestnuts may be found
When Cherokees have burned the fall leaves on the ground.
Her blade beneath a blanket, to remain un-shown,
She waddles through their circle like some harmless crone,
Observing adolescent and ambitious tot,
As – gathering the ripened chestnuts, charred and hot –
The children pity her: “Here, have a chestnut, Granny.
Feeble elder, cross your ankles, rest your fanny…”
They settle on her lap, and quickly, she will kill
With one swift, expert puncture, in the harvest chill,
Extracting its gourmet reward – a liver young,
Refreshing, warm and tasteful to the morbid tongue.
She sings, “Uwe la na tsiku. Su sa sai,”
Which means, “The liver, I devour,” in Cherokee.