By Thomas Davis
He was a big man in Arizona
We were in Mesa, Arizona during the winter at a meeting
Sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation,
Tribal college Presidents and administrators, students, Board members, and faculty.
The white man in the tailored black suit
Had shown up and was invited up front to speak.
The Foundation wanted the mainstream universities and tribal colleges to work together with a common purpose.
The Chancellor of the University was careful and polite to begin with,
But then, as if he couldn’t quite help himself, he said:
“You know, I really don’t know what you people want.”
He gestured toward the crowd of Indian eyes and faces.
“I mean, the University of Arizona has developed programs
And reached out to the Reservations
Since signing of the treaties.”
The crowd of tribal college presidents and the others there
Didn’t say anything, didn’t move, didn’t clap, but looked interested and polite.
He clearly didn’t understand what Indian people needed.
Note: This is a poem from the tribal college movement. The incident happened a long time ago.
by Thomas Davis
Like Moses in the Wilderness
Like Moses fleeing from the Pharaoh’s wrath
Before the miracle of waters parting,
The Preacher blazed a trail on freedom’s path
As fear possessed their endless fleeing.
What was that man or woman really seeing
That passed them while they tried to run and hide?
What accident of fate would send them running
When slavers found them tired and terrified?
The Preacher prayed away grim miles and tried
To make their spirits testify that dreams
Are greater than the fear that crucified
Their faith that they could get across the streams
And past the towns that blocked their way and threatened
To let the slavers pounce and leave them bludgeoned.
The Bridge that was a Wall
The bridge, inside the night, was like a wall,
Small, wooden, unassuming, houses dark
Beside a path that seemed to be a call
To all who needed passage to embark
Upon a journey to the river’s other side.
They hid in brush, mouths dry, dread strong enough
To make them sick, and, silently, wide-eyed,
Saw spectres armed with whips and iron cuffs
Stand shining where they’d have to cross the bridge
Without disturbing dogs or waking up
The people in the houses as the ridge
Beyond the river beckoned past the interrupt
That stood between their anxious dreams and where
Their breaths would feel God’s freedom in the air.
These two sonnets continue the long series that tells the fictional story of the people of a black community that actually lived on Washington Island in the 1850s before unexpectedly disappearing. Two sonnets from this series were posted earlier.
by Ethel Mortenson Davis to the Navajo
I’ll bring a peach sapling
for the peach trees
that were cut
And I’ll bring seed corn
for the corn that was pulled
out before it gave birth.
I’ll bring two lambs
for all the sheep
they killed and laid
at your feet
there on the ground
with your tears.
by Ethel Mortenson Davis
She feeds him sweets;
he, her, in the seat
ahead of us.
Yesterday, we were young,
as we climbed
in the Adirondacks,
we felt our age–
hand over hand,
root over root,
tripping over history
I waited for you,
you, for me,
our legs straining
like stressed trees,
trees that send out
a chemical substance
a train we too
will have to catch.
All four of us stopped
droplets of water
on the red maple leaves
suspended like placid lakes
in the rain-soaked day.
the conductor calls out,
“Express train to
Grand Central Station–
The Big Apple.”