On this Inauguration Day, I celebrate a poet whose poem, First Light, sings forth our first Americans' legacy, the love of this land, this ground upon which we live. Linda's lineage is Chickasaw, the tribe who once lived on the land where I grew up.
To those who came before me, and to the grandmothers who watch over us from the holes in the sky through which buffalo came, I give thanks. And to Linda Hogan. I still remember our drive through the Smoky Mountains to the Pancake House outside Gatlinburg.
If I had a prayer on this day, I would pray for White Buffalo Woman to come back to us, all of us, regardless of tribe, bearing the sacred pipe, to teach us the ways of peace and healing. Bison once roamed these mountains where I now live. And once I had a vision of White Buffalo Woman on the trail ahead of me. Perhaps she was the young woman I saw coming toward me that day in April, dressed "all the way white," as we say here in the Blue Ridge. That young woman appears my my poem, "Last Light."
In early morning
I forget I'm in this world
with crooked chiefs
who make federal deals.
In the first light
I remember who rewards me for living,
but singing birds and blue sky.
I know I can bathe and stretch,
make jewelry and love
the witch and wise woman
living inside, needing to be silenced
and put at rest for work's long day.
In the first light
I offer cornmeal
I say hello to those who came before me,
and to birds
under the eaves,
and budding plants.
I know the old ones are here
And every morning I remember the song
about how buffalo left through a hole in the sky
and how the grandmothers look out from those holes watching over us
from there and from there.
The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place who understand travel but not amnesia.
from “This Is My Third and Last Address to You” --Adrienne Rich
Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by seven’s, to answer to date, year, and
Presidents, as if those numbers and names
matter more in the end than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of body and spirit, exhaling that old dream
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.
Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know. Snowbird.
Buzzards Roost. Weyahutta. Oconaluftee.
I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia. And how, on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.
Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetime
to know. Roundabout her, her white Easter dress
whispers every thing I want to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness.