At Seneca Falls' 150th Anniversary of
the First Women's Rights Convention,
the Seneca clan mother speaks
the ceremonial "first words" in her language.
Behind her, secret service men in suits chat
as they wait for the first lady to give her speech.
I begin to hear the rounded cadences and pitches
of the Seneca language, enjoying the
usually unprocessed reality of CSPAN, until
some announcer interrupts, speaking over her:
"We are waiting for the English translation to
officially open the ceremonies here in Seneca Falls."
Always having to shake off my disappointment,
something always separating me from tasting
true music for long. After the prophetic speeches,
my power spot calls me to hike near Mary Jemison's
old cabin site. I think about her 700-mile trek
with her baby, and her struggles to save this land.
I follow the unmarked path to the oxbow,
and it encircles me as I wade into the river.
The gorge walls tell my history too:
rare family picnics, hike-quests alone,
the pre-proposal, and arranging to meet
Peter Jemison at the council grounds
to inspire my smart, young students.
My hands pull me to the shale-covered bank
with its own relics. After drying in the sun too,
I climb the overgrown path. My feet recall.
I look to this spot of earth
and tell her things,
wait to listen, then answer her,
"I will carry this in mind a long way."
A few finger lakes away, Ganondagan celebrates:
hand-carved flutes carry stories, drums loosen,
aromas of corn chowder and bear sausage,
another time capsule swallowed.
The sun soaks into the longhouse.
Later, closed to the public, some gather inside it
to kindle small fires as the lambent air
stretches the longhouse elm bark.
The mother drum sings with us,
its ties now visible,
while deerskins graze all decorated shoulders . . .
fanning the true agreement of feathers and smoke.
At the Border
There were always some who could hear their way
through bogs, even at night, born with that way
to see sounds, smell distances.
In daylight, their closed eyelids saw lines
their fingers played closing, opening whistle holes,
crawling across strings, like navigating the bending,
crooked borderlines, artisans at finding a way.
Reiver John Milbourne breaks sticks against his coat
to make a fire for the family near the bastle.
His fingers know how to rove on Northumbrian pipes,
well-calloused from reels and airs rushing past.
His dad tunes his fiddle's sheepgut strings
as John repeats a melody but breaks the phrase,
pausing to listen again.
After supper, he waits until the ghost bird begins,
then moves with the dew-fog.
His pony nods down the path.
At the ravine he crouches to listen to everything,
tuned to any hoofbeats or metal on the breeze.
An echo of bagpipes?
No, just sheep.
Kick-click galloping past their old village, burnt-
damp smell of mutton ashes wards them on.
Low-flying, unshod hooves turn from the dene.
Warmer air meets their nostrils . . . .
They chew the hollow shape of the breeze
blocked by the old Roman wall,
find the lowest place,
then quietly step over.
Carlos scrapes bark into powdery paint
for clouds, his palms press berries bled
to smear on flint: round unblinking faces.
The pinwheels lean together, crush garlands
sweet offerings to la Madre de Marajo.
At sunset, stomp samba melodies arise
as voices shout under centered stars:
“We are rooted on this earth!”
The curandero arrives with maracas, singing:
“Let our fire dance up vines to the crown
branches where spirits made first crafts
given down to the village young ones."
The elder women's song begins, spreads:
"Our fires will reach the night travelers
who still encircle us in the three worlds.
Next year's mothers; tie chorisia flowers
together to embrace your houses."
Drums pulse into feet, some together.
Deseo eyes and giddy sparks bloom
into one circuit. Fresh paint smiles
hide behind pinwheels spinning,
lifting, an arching galaxy echoing
their celebration cries.
About the Author: Lloyd Milburn teaches creative writing, literature, and composition in western New York colleges where he earned a creative writing MA. His poetry has been published in Willow Review (poetry award 2012), Permafrost, Ithaca Lit, Sandy River Review, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Clackamas Literary Review, Talking River, and Claudius Speaks. He has also completed a first book of poetry. A lifelong interest in synesthesia influences his poetry and music recordings.