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Translations and Variations by Armand Schwerner
Eskimo and Other

what the informant said to Franz Boas in 1920
					after Franz Boas, Keresan Texts

long ago her mother
had to sing this song and so
she had to grind along with it
the Corn People have a song too
it is very good
I refuse to tell it

spring fjord
					after Paul Emil Victor, Pomes Eskimo

I was out in my kayak
I was out at sea in it
I was paddling
very gently in the fjord Ammassivik
there was ice in the water
and on the water a petrel
turned his head this way that way
didn't see me paddling
Suddenly nothing but his tail
then nothing
He plunged but not for me:
huge head upon the water
great hairy seal
giant head with giant eyes, moustache
all shining and dripping
and the seal came gently toward me
Why didn't I harpoon him?
was I sorry for him?
was it the day, the spring day, the seal
playing in the sun
like me?

the little random creatures
					after William Jones, Fox Texts

Found a hole with a light in it, and saying
	  set a trap
with a bowcord for a noose.
A giant of light, something alive, dazzled the path
on its slow way up, blinding
the little random creatures
o something alive was dying in the bowcord and it said
		Allow me to choke to death
		And you'll have night forever
and they let the Sun go

the old man's song, about his wife
					after Paul Emil Victor, Poemes Eskimo

husband and wife we loved each other then
we do now
there was a time
each found the other

but a few days ago maybe yesterday
she saw in the black lake water
a sickening face
a wracked old woman face
wrinkled full of spots

I saw it she says
that shape in the water
the spirit of the water
wrinkled and spotted

and who'd seen that face before
wrinkled full of spots?
wasn't it me
and isn't it me now
when I look at you?

song of the old woman
					after Paul Emil Victor, Poemes Eskimo

all these heads these ears these eyes
around me
how long will the ears hear me?
and those eyes how long
will they look at me?
when these ears won't hear me any more
when these eyes turn aside from my eyes
I'll eat no more raw liver with fat
and those eyes won't see me any more
and my hair my hair will have disappeared

moon eclipse exorcism
					after Leo J. Trachtenberg, Alsea Texts and Myths

come out come out come out
the moon has been killed
			     who kills the moon? crow
			     who often kills the moon? eagle
			     who usually kills the moon? chicken hawk
			     who also kills the moon? owl
			     in their numbers they assemble
			     for moonkilling
come out, throw sticks at your houses
come out, turn your buckets over
spill out all the water don't let it turn
bloody yellow
from the wounding and death
of the moon

o what will become of the world, the moon
never dies without cause
only when a rich man is about to be killed
is the moon murdered

look all around the world, dance, throw your sticks, help out,
look at the moon,
		    dark as it is now, even if it disappears
it will come back, think of nothing
I'm going back into the house
				and the others went back

her elegy
					after Ruth Underhill, Papago Indian Religion

I'd run about
on the desert
me a young girl fierce to see
whatever I could.  My heart
was not cool.
	         When there was no Coyote
I saw Coyote
                      then a spider
on the house-post, the central one,
stopped to look at me, just
ready to speak.
I made a song, about Coyote
a shaman sang over me, to find out.
And when he spoke Father said Ð No
one shaman in the house is enough Ð
my body already sheltered
the diving crystals, growing in my body.
The shaman bent over me he sucked them one by one
out of my breast
		  they were long
like the joints of my pinkie, white and moving like worms
o the shaman said See I've taken them out
before they got big
		      He made a hole in a giant cactus
and put them away, inside


These workings of Schwerner's were originally published in Shaking the Pumpkin and are assembled with a number of others in his selected shorter poems (Junction Press, 1999). The impact of the ethnopoetic imagination on his masterwork, The Tablets, was clear from the beginnings of that project, itself a work of the ethnopoetic imagination.

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