17 May 2011

Prompt for We Write Poems

The day I read this week's prompt at We Write Poems (to write your own prompt), a movie came into my mailbox from Netflix. It was a documentary called “Wounded Heart: Pine Ridge and the Souix.” A prompt arose.

Watch a documentary film. While you are viewing it pause it to explore any images that strike you as interesting to get a piece started after the movie is over. Keep your notebook/laptop open to jot down images, thoughts, single words. Include at least one quotation from the movie in your piece. In short, turn a documentary into poetry.

Background for the piece:
Russell Means
I started by watching and recording statements and images from the movie. Then Russell Means offended me, and I doubt that he cares one bit. Russell Means is one of the founding members of AIM, the American Indian Movement. They were involved in the takeover of Alcatraz, and the siege at Wounded Knee in the 70s (interesting story, that one). Means was hard for me to watch. It worries me that he can rally hatred amongst his people. I do think anger is justified, but the intensity of hatred I felt from him as an American citizen scared me, and made me think we couldn’t have a friendly conversation.

Paha Sapa, the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people. While this is not what the movie is about, it is where I went to escape Means’ hatred. Or possibly salve it (although I am certain Means does not welcome or respect a white woman’s salve). Having the United States’ Presidents sculpted into a sacred mountain at Mount Rushmore, was a slap in the face to the Sioux/Lakota people living nearby. Think about it. Sturgis, the biker rally runs through the belly of their sacred place. America has made the area a joke. Shame on us.


Pine Ridge South Dakota
Give them the Hills

The mountain slides
open between two cliff legs
as Jay Red Hawk’s
indigenous tongue creates trails
bracketed by sleek black braids
before camera segues to
black mold growing oxygen masks
on American Indian children
four and five years old
On reservations in South Dakota
North Dakota

23 July 1980

United States versus
Sioux Nation of Indians

Supreme Court rules
Black Hills illegally taken
Supreme Court orders
remuneration of initial offering price plus interest
— nearly $106 million — be paid

Lakota people refuse settlement,
in trust it grows to over 700 million
(Accept settlement and
validate US theft
of sacred Lakota land.)

National life expectancy rate
for Native Americans living on
the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
in South Dakota
is 48 years for men
is 52 years for women

Indian Health Service created by century old treaty
promised quality health care exchanged for land

one dentist pulls healthy teeth
again and again
leaving rotted teeth in mouths
one big oops

lack of industry and 80% unemployment
drives bodies fueled by firewater
government surplus foods
contribute to obesity
diabetes eats lives
those diseased with alcohol
receive higher health benefits
consuming budgets
crushing lives
creating a system
where addiction pays

smoke wisps and curls
around old ideas

An angry Russell Means
pisses on the BIA
sure that I cannot understand where
he comes from he says

“Culture breathes life into us
I can’t make an American understand
because they have no culture.”
federal government
“Every American is a racist.
Be oppressed for a century or two—
Do you want to know how I felt when the twin towers went down?
Do you?”
Intensity underscores the anger in his voice.

Yes, Russell, I do want to know.
We drove you to your narrow mind.

America, honor and respect our treaties.
Stop breaking promises.

What kind of precedent
do we set for our citizens
when we offer to pay off a people?
Let us demonstrate true honor and
return to them what we stole from them.
Swallow pride and belch hope’s dazzling light.
Give the Black Hills back to the Lakota people—
that’s what they want. Not money.
Give them victory.
Reinvigorate a sense of place.

Jay Redhawk’s boys play with arrows
crafted from feathers and straight on sticks
family spirit fills a movie’s frames.

Russell Means will still erupt
it is his warrior way,
but children’s lives might improve
in the open air of Paha Sapa
where indigenous ancestors once
breathed free.


Mary said...

An interesting prompt and poem in response to your prompt. Unfortunately I generally can't sit still long enough to watch something 'long' on television / Netflix though. Sigh.

Lolamouse said...

You condensed a lot of info into a truly emotionally loaded poem. I could feel the conflict and the hurt on both sides.

barbara said...

Thought-provoking, and that goes for the prompt idea, too.
I've got a shtload of guilt of my own as a white child of the segregated south.
Reparation is insufficient. ( but I'd take the money)

vivinfrance said...

I could feel YOUR emotion powering through this excellent poem. The hatred is comprehensible but not forgiveable.

The prompt is a good idea - though I watched a wonderful documentary last night about the history of landscape painting. I was loving it until I fell asleep, an hour before the end! So irritating.

Anonymous said...

I love your idea. It's a type of found poem but I've never thought of trying one on a documentary. I can't wait. Off to peruse the tv guide...

Anonymous said...

Brenda, the intensity of feeling in this poem is astonishing. Powerful and moving.

I didn't know that about Mount Rushmore. I am appalled.

I think your prompt is excellent and I'll be trying it myself.

Raven's Wing Poetry said...

I think I might understand where the Lakota are coming from. Taking the money would have validated the theft, made it seem okay as if money could fix the whole thing, the theft plus the evils which came after it.

I've never heard of Russell Means but I might compare him to Malcolm X...except Malcolm mostly contained his anger within his words and spoke to the pain in the hearts of Black Americans. Seems to me Mr. Means took more direction and was the embodiment of "By Any Means Necessary."

Your poem raises interesting questions. What should this nation do with the peoples it hurt and oppressed? If I go back four or five generations on my father's side of the family, I will find African slaves in North Carolina. Take one path in a fork in another road, and I will find dispossessed Cherokee. Take another fork, and I find "No Irish need apply".

How can America reconcile all of this hurt? Can it be done? What is required to do so? These are all tough questions, and what each person wants depends on where they lost the most.

Great job, Brenda. And great prompt.


neil reid said...

Oh Brenda, you got me good with this one - more than once, more than twice. Thoughtful, unafraid, willing to look, observe. (I could write an essay right here in response, but won't, not this moment now.)

A more than interesting prompt that invites varied thought, and then the one you chose, powerful. Emotions, especially strong, make it easy to stir the bowl. It can be hard sometimes to see the results of what we do - not meaning right, not meaning wrong, but write as here you did begins to open windows more wide. The response to hatred is always just one thing, always - love. Which is also what your poem does.

So many faces this prompt might wear. Big thanks.

And your poem, well crafted inside and out. Says so much without being burdensome to read. Difficult subject well tended and clear. Actually it touches fingertips with the poem I wrote as well, if differently. Much appreciation!

flaubert said...

Brenda, an excellent poem full of compassion. Have ever read Flyboys: A true story of courage. This piece brings that book to mind.


brenda w said...

It makes me feel good to read all of your thoughtful responses. Thank you.

Nicole,I really appreciate your comments, you got me thinking. I want to add a few more bits about Means, as I may have been too harsh. It could be argued that Russell Means is a good man. He has done many good things for his people. In the siege on Wounded Knee, the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservations was surrounded by the FBI. It is a long story. One that makes me feel terribly ashamed of my own government. I will write about it this summer.

When I put this post out there, it's only one piece of a bigger story. The takeover of Alcatraz was another place our government could have made different decisions. AIM occupied Alcatraz under a treaty clause regarding surplus property. They wanted to turn it into a cultural center for indigenous arts. What a great idea, right? Wrong. It's an interesting story. I'll follow the post with a link to a piece I wrote on Alcatraz.

Anyway, I don't know that Russell Means would do things "by any means." But he is angry, and I felt his hatred when he spoke in the movie. The bottom line for him is his people.

I don't know what we should do with the people we've hurt and oppressed. Is returning the land really the right thing? What about white communities that exist thereon? It's a difficult issue.

As for them taking the money for the Black Hills. I'm proud of them for showing integrity. Why sell what you don't want to sell?

Neil..I'd love to read that essay. :) Thanks for your comments. It feels good to have struck a deep chord with this issue.

Pamela, I haven't read Fly Boys, but I have a copy of it on my classroom bookshelves. I will read it this summer. Thanks for the connection, it's got me interested.

Thanks for the interesting discussion.

What Happened at Alcatraz

Mr. Walker said...

Brenda, this is awesome. The way that you engage with the people in the poem, and not just the facts. You make it personal - for Russell Means and for yourself. You didn't just dismiss him; that would have been the easy route, and you didn't go there. This poem fires on so many cylinders. It makes me want to see that documentary - and to find my own documentary and write my own poem - I think it's a great prompt idea.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic idea! I really will be disappointed if your prompt is not chosen. No to go hunting for documentaries.

Wayne Pitchko said...

soooooooo good Brenda....reminds me of a native friend Nelson Small Legs Jr. ...from Alberta....who was a martyr....and always miles down at me

Anonymous said...

There is enough sin in this poem to fill a casino. We gave the indigenous Americans casinos, cigs, and tax-free gas. That's like giving survivors of the Holocaust the pork market and all the tattoo parlors... it's sick, the ways of the elders are being lost.

Powerful, Brenda. THANKS. Amy