Saturday, July 01, 2006

Modern English Tanka

Modern English Tanka , the new print and web journal from Denis M. Garrison, has posted my article, '11 Good Kyoka: Experiments in English.' I am curious to see the reactions. In addition, the MET has also published 18 of my tanka and kyoka, which is very gratifying.

Here are just two of the poems from that selection. If you want to read them all, follow the link to the MET.

the dowager houses
stand primly in their ragged porches
looking embarrassed
as ladies do
in such circumstances

~M. Kei

'Dowager houses' was written on a trip to Port Deposit, Maryland. I've shown the poem to some people around here and who know the town and they recognized the truthfulness of the picture. The phrase 'dowager house' really does describe these grand old dames fallen on hard times.


Give me the heart
of an old chief
and I’ll make it
young again,
dancing on the Red Road.

~M. Kei


'Give me the heart of an old chief' was written while remembering when I learned how to do Sneak Up Dance from an extremely fine sneak up dancer. It was a hot afternoon at the Assateague powwow and hardly anybody was around, just me and the headman dancer. He called for a sneak up dance and I had to admit that I had never done it. He looked at me and said, "You're dressed right," and, "Just follow along with me." (I was dressed as a men's traditional dancer, as usual. No fancydancing for these creaky old bones!) There was a boy there who was nervous because it was his first time dancing in the arena, and so, with the wisdom born of thirty seconds greater knowledge than his, assured him, "Just follow the headman dancer and do what he does." And then a Dog Soldier arrived, and admitted he didn't know how to do a sneak up dance, either. Feeling quite the experienced old man at this point, I assured him as well, "Just do what Charlie does."

With that inauspicious beginning, the drum began to play. The basic step is the same: it's the Indian Two Step which is the foundation of most traditional dancese. It varies with bending low as the hunter pantomimes cutting for sign, then short runs as he pursues his quarry, then upright dancing as he lifts his dance staff to Heaven and whoops his thanks to Creator above for success. Usually every dancer does his own thing, acting out his personal story, and in competitions, are judged individually. We all follow Charlie, and swiftly a rapport grew amongst us. Charlie was our chieftain and we his hunting party, following his leadership, fanning out to search the ground, but working together. The synergy was incredible.

And suddenly... old men who had been sluggish in the heat and humidity suddenly popped upright and leaped into the arena to follow Charlie Running Eagle. At least a dozen of us formed his hunting party, each doing his own part as part of the larger whole. The veil of time parted and we were dancing with all the Native men of the past and future who have ever followed or ever would follow the hunting trail.

And so this poem about dancing the hearts of old chiefs, it is a song about the goodness of the Red Road -- the road of tradition and righteousness. It runs from north to south, and it brings all good things. The elders say that if a man has a wicked thing in his heart and he dances, the wicked thing cannot stay but is cleaned from his body. Therefore, a man who makes a habit of dancing cannot have any evil in him. A man who refuses to dance is therefore viewed with suspicion. Dancing cures everything that ails a man.

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