Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Long Time Back

[I have this card with the name of the artist somewhere in this house, but cant lay my fingers on it right now...will look for it and credit the artist ASAP]

Kerry's intriguing challenge at Real Toads is to write a poem in the tradition of oral poetry. Cool! She suggested we try to embody the culture that exists where we live. Of course the culture that feels even closer to me than my own is our Nuu Chah Nulth First Nations, on the West Coast. I heard many of the Old Ones speak in my years working among them. I remember going home on the boat after work one afternoon and the elder who was sitting beside me pointed to a long peninsula of land jutting out into the bay, prime real estate these days. "My great-grandfather was given a barrel of molasses for that land," she told me.

Long time back, 
my grandfather say,
what is water now
up north
was covered by thick ice,
like a land bridge,
and The People came walking,
wrapped in fur, 
across the Russian steppes,
and over the  Bering  Sea.
They met with Our People,
who were Walking Up
in search of food. 

Those were the days
when the trees 
and the animals
spoke to people,
and all lived
within the sacred balance
of life, days when
the Medicine Wheel turned
and turned,
and man lived 
in balance
between the earth and sky.

Long time back, 
my grandfather say,
the white lion 
and the medicine man
shared a cave together.
When the hungry season came,
the lion offered himself
so the human could eat,
and, in this way, survive
when, otherwise, man 
would have perished.
Long time back.

Long time back,
we sang to the whales
and the whales
came to us, singing.
A wild child
climbed on the big gray's back,
and her eyes spoke:
she became Chief,
in that moment.

Long time back,
trees walked across 
the forest floor
and strange spirits
murmured and whispered
in their branches.
The secrets that were revealed
in those long gone days
are remembered now
by only a few of our elders.
The language of the people
is dying with them,
along with our hopes,
along with the planet
that Younger Brother,
so rash and heedless,
takes and takes from,
giving nothing back.

Long time back, we knew
that everything we took,
we had to consider the impact
down to the seventh generation.
Older Brother has 
given warning,
but Younger Brother
looks with eyes of greed
and will not hear.

Our Old Ones tell us
that in the night
they hear 
the broken-hearted cries
of all the animals:
cougar and grizzly,
white Spirit Bear,
wolf and deer.
They are living in times 
of homelessness and hunger,
few forests left in which to hide,
flushed out onto city streets 
where they stare, terrified,
at the fast metal world  
that man has made,
a world with 
nowhere left 
to run.

The Old Ones say
they watched a mother bear 
and her hungry cubs
trailing across a clearcut,
and the Old Ones were crying
as they spoke:
"So pitiful, so pitiful."

Long time back,
the world was young
and free.
Waterfalls tumbled 
down the canyon wall,
wild rivers roared,
fish were plentiful,
and not diseased,
meat was fresh,
not full of pus and hormones,
and braves rode free
and laughing
across the prairie grass,
after the herds of buffalo.

My grandfather say,
it was always 
a good day to die,
long time back.


  1. Beautifully captured! As I was reading it I could see a tribal elder in my mind passing this story along to the next generation. This is just wonderful!

  2. The illustration matched the story-telling beautifully, and the text sounded authentically narrative. There was a great modern tragedy hidden in there too.

  3. Perfect response to the prompt, Sherry. I did think Kerry's challenge would resonate with you!

  4. Wow, you nailed it! Your insight, the way you wrote it and the tone, the message say it all! Bravo~
    I too could see an elder sharing this story... love it~

  5. You have contrasted Grandfather and Younger Brother so perfectly in this piece, and given perfect examples of all that lies between those two world views. What has always struck me most forcefully about the American Indians and their lore, is the emphasis on living in harmony. If an animal is killed for food, ask its spirit for forgiveness; if a tree is chopped down, give thanks for its life. Younger Brother has forgotten this principle, and will certainly pay the price.

  6. utterly conversational. beautiful intonations. what wisdom and marvelous pace. one fine poem indeed.

  7. Well you certainly rose to the challenge with this Sherry, it was as if I could hear the elder's voice clearly. Everything man has done for the past few hundred years has been for greed, for profit and nothing put back in return.
    The wise elders could have taught us so much in ways of how to be kind the our planet, we haven't listened at all and now the huge storms and disasters are showing us our hugs mistakes for keep on taking.
    Beautiful story Sherry, simply beautiful.

  8. I think this could become a 'long' poem, a book. It is very powerful!

  9. I like the refraining lines of long time back...the wisdom, the connections with the earth and animals...an excellent tale and full of wisdom ~

  10. the old one had much wisdom... wonderful piece to read... you got me with the language and planet dieing... thanks

  11. Long time back, the People understood that the land was not theirs but there to share.

    Lovely, Sherry. It reminds me of the Earth People series by Jean Auel.

  12. yes - time to regenerate this old world

  13. Great jobof capturing the very feel of oral wisdom, the simplicity and repetition that allow it to enter the mind and be part of the every day life of the people. Enjoyed it, Sherry.

  14. Wonderful poem of contrasts between the old and modern.

  15. You've done so much with this, and it's absolutely wonderful. I love the selective use of capital letters here; they add to your primal, tribal imagery. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!

  16. Sherry, you delivered a punch to the Eurocentric invaders with this. The beginning, with the crossing of the REAL "Westerners" across the Bering Straits, when there was land to cross... the singing of the whales, and the little girl riding one, the majesty with which you paint the picture of unspoiled land... this is the heart of your writing in many ways, but Kerry's prompt gave you that phrase, Long ago, and off you went. I think I was reading your mind, only in Gaelic! Amy


I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!