Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
I: Broken Bird
By Lew Sarett
 
From “The Box of God”

O BROKEN bird,
Whose whistling silver wings have known the lift
Of high mysterious hands, and the wild sweet music
Of big winds among the ultimate stars!—
The black-robed curés put your pagan Indian        5
Soul in their white man’s House of God, to lay
Upon your pagan lips new songs, to swell
The chorus of amens and hallelujahs.
In simple faith and holy zeal, they flung
Aside the altar-tapestries, that you        10
Might know the splendor of God’s handiwork,
The shining glory of His face. O eagle,
They brought you to a four-square box of God,
Crippled of pinion, clipped of soaring wing;
And they left you there to flutter against the bars        15
In futile flying, to beat against the gates,
To droop, to dream a little, and to die.
 
Ah, Joe Shing-ób—by the sagamores revered
As Spruce the Conjurer, by the black-priests dubbed
The Pagan Joe—how clearly I recall        20
Your conversion in the long-blade’s House of God,
Your wonder when you faced its golden glories.
Don’t you remember?—when first you sledged from out
The frozen Valley of the Sleepy-eye,
And hammered on the gates of Fort Brazeau—        25
To sing farewell to Ah-nah-qúod, the Cloud,
Sleeping, banked high with flowers, clothed in the pomp
Of white man’s borrowed garments in the church?
Oh, how your heart, as a child’s heart beating before
High wonder-workings, thrilled at the burial splendor!—        30
The coffin, shimmering-black as moonlit ice,
And gleaming in a ring of waxen tapers;
After the chant of death, the long black robes,
Blown by the wind and winding over the hills
With slow black songs to the marked-out-place-of-death;        35
The solemn feet that moved along the road
Behind the wagon-with-windows, the wagon-of-death,
With its jingling nickel harness, its dancing plumes.
Oh, the shining splendor of that burial march,
The round-eyed wonder of the village throng!        40
And oh, the fierce-hot hunger, the burning envy
That seared your soul when you beheld your friend
Achieve such high distinction from the black-robes!
And later, when the cavalcade of priests
Wound down from the fenced-in-ground, like a slow black worm        45
Crawling upon the snow—don’t you recall?—
The meeting in the mission?—that night, your first,
In the white man’s lodge of holy-medicine?
How clearly I can see your hesitant step
On the threshold of the church; within the door        50
Your gasp of quick surprise, your breathless mouth;
Your eyes round-white before the glimmering taper,
The golden-filigreed censer, the altar hung
With red rosettes and velvet soft as an otter’s
Pelt in the frost of autumn, with tinsel sparkling        55
Like cold blue stars above the frozen snows.
Oh, the blinding beauty of that House of God!—
Even the glittering bar at Jock McKay’s,
Tinkling with goblets of fiery devil’s-spit,
With dazzling vials and many-looking mirrors,        60
Seemed lead against the silver of the mission.
 
I hear again the chanting holy-men,
The agents of the white man’s Mighty Spirit,
Making their talks with strong, smooth-moving tongues:
 
“Hear! Hear ye, men of a pagan faith!        65
Forsake the idols of the heathen fathers,
The too-many ghosts that walk upon the earth.
For there lie pain and sorrow, yea, and death!
 
“Hear! Hear ye, men of a pagan faith!
And grasp the friendly hands we offer you        70
In kindly fellowship, warm hands and tender,
Yea, hands that ever give and never take.
Forswear the demon-charms of medicine-men;
Shatter the drums of conjuring Chée-sah-kée—
Yea, beyond these walls lie bitterness and death!        75
 
“Pagans!—ye men of a bastard birth!—bend,
Bow ye, proud heads, before this hallowed shrine!
Break!—break ye the knee beneath this roof,
For within this house lives God! Abide ye here!
Here shall your eyes behold His wizardry;        80
Here shall ye find an everlasting peace.”
 
Ah, Joe the pagan, son of a bastard people,
Child of a race of vanquished, outlawed children,
Small wonder that you drooped your weary head,
Blinding your eyes to the suns of elder days;        85
For hungry bellies look for new fat gods,
And heavy heads seek newer, softer pillows.
With you again I hear the eerie chants
Floating from out the primal yesterdays—
The low sweet song of the doctor’s flute, the slow        90
Resonant boom of the basswood water-drum,
The far voice of the fathers, calling, calling.
I see again the struggle in your eyes—
The hunted soul of a wild young grouse, afraid,
Trembling beneath maternal wings, yet lured        95
By the shrill whistle of the wheeling hawk.
I see your shuffling limbs, hesitant, faltering
Along the aisle—the drag of old bronzed hands
Upon your moccasined feet, the forward tug
Of others, soft and white and very tender.        100
One forward step … another … a quick look back!—
Another step … another … and lo! the eyes
Flutter and droop before a flaming symbol,
The strong knees break before a blazoned altar
Glimmering its tapestries in the candle-light,        105
The high head beaten down and bending before
New wonder-working images of gold.
 
And thus the black-robes brought you into the house
Wherein they kept their God, a house of logs,
Square-hewn, and thirty feet by forty. They strove        110
To put before you food, and purple trappings—
Oh, how they walked you up and down in the vestry,
Proudly resplendent in your white man’s raiment,
Glittering and gorgeous, the envy of your tribe:
Your stiff silk hat, your scarlet sash, your shoes        115
Shining and squeaking gloriously with newness!
Yet even unto the end—those blood-stained nights
Of the sickness-on-the-lung; that bitter day
On the Barking Rock, when I packed you down from camp
At Split-hand Falls to the fort at Sleepy-eye;        120
While, drop by drop, your life went trickling out,
As sugar-sap that drips on the birch-bark bucket
And finally chills in the withered maple heart
At frozen dusk: even unto the end—
When the mission doctor, framed by guttering candles,        125
Hollowly tapped his hooked-horn finger here
And there upon your bony breast, like a wood-bird
Pecking and drumming on a rotten trunk—
Even unto this end I never knew
Which part of you was offering the holy prayers—        130
The chanting mouth, or the eyes that gazed beyond
The walls to a far land of windy valleys.
And sometimes, when your dry slow lips were moving
To perfumed psalms, I could almost, almost see
Your pagan soul aleap in the fire-light, naked,        135
Shuffling along to booming medicine-drums,
Shaking the flat black earth with moccasined feet,
Dancing again—back among the jangling
Bells and the stamping legs of gnarled old men—
Back to the fathers calling, calling across        140
Dead winds from the dim gray years.
 
                        O high-flying eagle,
Whose soul, wheeling among the sinuous winds,
Has known the molten glory of the sun,
The utter calm of dusk, and in the evening        145
The lullabies of moonlit mountain waters!—
The black-priests locked you in their House of God,
Behind great gates swung tight against the frightened
Quivering aspens, whispering perturbed in council,
And muttering as they tapped with timid fists        150
Upon the doors and strove to follow you
And hold you; tight against the uneasy winds
Wailing among the balsams, fumbling upon
The latch with fretful fingers; tight against
The crowding stars who pressed their troubled faces        155
Against the windows. In honest faith and zeal,
The black-robes put you in a box of God,
To swell the broken chorus of amens
And hallelujahs; to flutter against the door,
Crippled of pinion, bruised of head; to beat        160
With futile flying against the gilded bars;
To droop, to dream a little, and to die.
 
 
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