By: Scott T. Starbuck
The rock where the scene takes place is before a backdrop of Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona. Cactus and sage props give the illusion of a natural desert setting. Dawn is breaking. There is a light breeze. A large live lizard stands before the rock. The entire scene is addressed to the lizard with only short moments of reflection, or gestures toward The Dome. The speaker is a Yakima Elder, with a small flask, who decided to die instead of entering The Dome with his tribe.
I already know I won’t go in. I know I’ll die out here. Survival may be the greatest form of justice; and greed, the greatest evil. Right now, I’m fighting for the survival of my soul, gazing as deeply into the ancestral waters as I can. Honoring what’s there in my pinhole of light in the universe. It’s the best I can do.
Once, horizon to horizon was our land (hand motion). Then, a reservation. Then, a smaller reservation away from the river (point away). We signed a treaty in 1855 guaranteeing us land and water, but both were taken away. Now, they want all of us to go into the plastic bulb (points at Biosphere II). They have been away from their homeland so long, most do not understand. If my spirit dies, I suffer a fate worse than physical death. Most do not understand.
Your slow reptilian eyes, sun-tough skin, you have survived since the age of dinosaurs, your cousins. Will you survive this too? No money to go inside, aye? How about a little splash of water? There. Not very good, I know. Again, it’s the best I can do.
Where is your woman, lizard? Where are your people? Captured by boys on their desert machines? Taken from their rocky homes in the sun to live out their days in plastic boxes beneath fluorescent tubes? Not you, friend. Not me either.
Washington D. C. says we should be grateful. Say many can’t afford to go in the domes. Say they dance blindly across the desert, faces covered with open sores, selling away their daughters to get a ticket in. Say our tribe, having little money, is lucky to have this dome. Lucky? I don’t feel lucky.
Washington D. C. loves her precious money. But she does not love them back. How can an abstraction love? It is because of their relationship with symbolic zeros and ones that Earth-Mother is diseased and sick. She has cried out to them for so long but concrete walls encase their hearts, ears, eyes, and lives, so all they know is the buzz of their electronics and faint echoes of their empty statues. They think they can leave Earth-Mother for Mars and still live? Even if their bodies live, their spirits will surely die. And what is a body without a spirit? They talk Big Talk, empty talk, high-rise talk trapped between Earth and sky. They do not know (gunshot in the distance) they belong to both. They do not know they are children of both.
Once, when I was young, I too fell in love with a lie. A pretty brunette with cinnamon eyes from Seattle. It was spring. “You can always tell how someone likes their sex,” she smiled, “by how they like their music.” When it happened in her parents’ basement, it was like she had headphones on, and I was climbing some faraway cliff alone.
Afterward, she said, “Man, that was great. Let’s do it tomorrow, okay? Meet me here at ten.”
“Sure,” I said. “Tomorrow.” Walking home across the tracks under the stars, the truth of it hit me like a ghost train. What if I had children with this woman? I never went back.
I like you because you listen. And you’re not arrogant like the people who tell me what to do. They think they can survive in their plastic “arks” like Noah? They can’t, little brother. Rich and poor, white and Native, human people and lizard people, we’re all in this together. Besides, in the story, Noah had Creator on his side, and when that happens you can’t lose. Even if you die, you win. They are Noah’s children, but they are not as Noah. The Grandfather is the one Creator, brother. You forget that, and you have forgotten everything.
I am tired of listening to them. Now it is time to listen to my Creator, and to my wise ancestors. Your time to listen to yours.
When I listen to Creator, I recall my boyhood dreams. A monarch butterfly looking into a glass cage at another monarch butterfly, neither sure, at first, if the other was just a reflection. The one outside flew off in a breeze. When it was gone, the one inside stayed at the same spot against the glass a long time, wishing it could.
Another dream happened after I swam in the city pool. That night I dreamed all the rivers near my village were gone. The once-mighty Columbia River from Astoria to Alberta was a graffiti-covered concrete pipe. Desert was everywhere, and water was in square concrete pools. Salmon entered from a wall pipe and were electronically counted. There was a lottery, and men drew tickets to harvest the yellowish thin fish. I knelt before them and prayed, remembering an autumn evening with my father when I was fifteen. High canyon walls and evergreens. Spectacular wildflowers in sunlight. Swift crystal rush of running water after a freshet. King salmon leaped huge whitewater rapids. In my dream, two eagles caught the updraft over our heads. When my eyes followed them up, there was a sudden patchwork of white diamond-shaped crossbars. The eagles, as they approached the top, changed into monarch butterflies. One found a crack in the glass to escape while the other was trapped. The glass edge tore at its sides and eventually tore off his wings. The free one looked back once, and his face was my own.
When I listen to Creator, I hear the voice of Crazy Horse before he was tricked and killed by the whites. He tells me exactly what Black Elk said of him. That he “dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. [He saw] that is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”
Lizard, I am sorry for what my human brothers and sisters have done to the salmon people. To eagle people. To deer people. To your people. To themselves.
The land from Atlantic to Pacific was once a paradise. Then Tecumseh was killed. Then there was the Trail of Tears. Old Shasta Town Massacre, Hynes Bay Massacre, Bridge Gulch Massacre, Wright Massacre, Howonquet Massacre, Yontoket Massacre, Achulet Massacre, “Ox” Incident, Nasomah Massacre, Chetco River Massacre, Klamath River Massacres, Harney Massacre, Lupton Massacre, Little Butte Creek Massacre, Grande Ronde River Valley Massacre, Shingletown Massacre, Round Valley Massacres, Pit River Massacre, Chico Creek Massacre, Massacre at Bloody Rock, Indian Island Massacre, Pease River Massacre, Horse Canyon Massacre, Fort Fauntleroy Massacre, Upper Station Massacre, Big Antelope Creek Massacre, Kowonk Massacre, Bear River Massacre, Keyesville Massacre, Cottonwood Massacre, Massacre at Bloody Tanks, Oak Run Massacre, Skull Valley Massacre, Sand Creek Massacre, Mud Lake Massacre, The Grass Valley Massacre, Owens Lake Massacre, Three Knolls Massacre, Circleville Massacre, Aquarius Mountains Massacre, Campo Seco Massacre, Massacre at La Paz, Washita Massacre, Marias Massacre, Kingsley Cave Massacre, Camp Grant Massacre, Skeleton Cave Massacre, Cypress Hills Massacre, Sappa Creek Massacre, Battle of the Big Hole Massacre, Fort Robinson Massacre, Buffalo Gap Massacre, Stronghold Massacre, and Wounded Knee Massacre.
In California, Ishi’s people, the Yahi, were shot by ranchers receiving 25 cents for a scalp, and $5 a head. Funding was approved by the California governor, the California Legislature, and reimbursed by Uncle Sam. Many forgot, but I will never forget. Their Dome is not a refuge. It’s another trap.
The other world gives me a soul song (another gunshot is heard in the distance, but closer this time) for you.
(The old man chants to the desert stillness.)
In the eyes of salmon people
reflections of the sea
In the eyes of deer people
reflections of the forest
In the eyes of your people
reflections of the desert
In the eyes of humans
(Another gunshot is heard, closest yet.)
Blackout lights. When they come back on, let the speaker be dead. In his place, let there be a feather on the rock
Scott T. Starbuck’s Hawk on Wire: Ecopoems was a 2018 Montaigne Medal Finalist sponsored by the Eric Hoffer Awards for “the most thought-provoking books.” Starbuck’s book was also selected by Newpages.com as a July 12, 2017 “Editor’s Pick,” and was featured at Yale Climate Connections. His next book of climate change poems Carbonfish Blues (Fomite, 2018)will be a collaboration with English artist, Guy Denning. Starbuck’s “