By Duane Niatum
Migration Issue | 2015-2016
Mother of Long Ago and Far Away
Stepping down the road of forgiveness
feels like the thorn in the heart
will never die before I do.
But when an old girlfriend of yours
gave me a picture of the two of you
skipping in a happy stride
on Pike street Seattle in 1943,
the memory knots evaporated like spit in the dark.
Joy sprang into my eyes at holding the picture;
you came back into my life as if you never left.
Your death, twelve years of doors slamming shut,
happened so slowly I still hear your last
faint breaths struggling for melody.
The picture shines like quaking aspen in the wind.
You and your friend appear on that day
as if you were about to bite into the apple
of the world and it would always be your treat.
Your smile radiates out of the picture frame.
The old questions and sorrows of what was
our relationship as mother and son vanish
from my lips. The brain discards its hardest edge.
Lost and Found in a Dream
(after a dream & re-reading Edward Thomas)
Turning to the lost way shapes the memory
even if my steps claim it never happened.
Turning to the path of the lost has never
been far from hearing titmice in the roses.
My ear sees what’s lost on the road is the old
one that signals the new one.
In this dream the loss took me for a ride
into the mud of violent, warm rain.
The rain beat so hard and long
I began wishing for a sundial.
The valley was a river of green corn fields,
cabbage and zucchini sparkling
in the sun, wind and rain that filled the air.
Alderneys grazed the grass weaving in the light
and eyed me as if I was an apparition.
I asked the Muse for my soul back
and it returned with an echo off the trees.
Cows silky and pungent, more real than I was lost.
Their voices, a sad joy, traveled with me like sunset.
Searching for the missed step, a dog howled in the distance.
What appeared on the horizon to answer were poplars
drenched and shimmering in grey-white light.
Lark and sparrow chirped to the corn god.
A mouse chewed away a good piece of morning.
Corn fed a tribe of critters and left
a few for the aliens on the land.
A crow, with one eye looking into my eye,
the other pretending it was bathing in the rain,
scolded a little and grew silent as Buddha,
becoming a friend of more than moon and sea.
Pollen and the mystery bug slide
across my eyeball.
I sneeze awake.
Air is a wind of chuckles.
This caving in and out
of the organs takes me
through several deep breathing spasms.
Spring promises more exercise
to dance through my joints
like a jolt of cognac.
In the afternoon attempt at escape
the people of our town
exchange coughs and sneezes.
We doubt time has tricked again.
More likely the sun on its warpath
edges down the sky like Apollo’s horses
ready to torch the next fool
tripping on the sidewalk.
Escape and shade grow dim,
a game that even trumped the ancients.
Children who know enough to hang
their jump rope on the parking meter
sense it becomes harder in a suit of sweat
to reach a shady side
or fit in the daylight overload.
Duane Niatum, Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, has been writing poems, stories and essays
for over 50 years. He has been widely published in the US and abroad. He published
eight books of poems, most recently, The Pull of the Green Kite. Duane’s writing is
deeply connected with the Northwest coast landscape, its mountains, forests, water and
creatures. The legends and traditions of his ancestors, who have long called this place
home, help shape and animate his poetry. Duane has made a life-long study of art and
artists, including European and American Indian art, literature and culture.