S'Klallam Spirit Canoe

byDuane Niatum
My paddle keeps to the sun's path,
pulls back home to sea,
my blood on its travels to the whirling depths.
From bow to stern our canoe drops and rises,
embraces each trough cleansed
by family singing from coastal cliffs.
We join our brothers and sisters
in canoes from other villages
in the circle of kelp and spray,
seal and whale; ride the moving hills,
slide sideways and down, then straight up,
each paddle touching sky.

The drumbeat slips beneath the current,
rattling from genes to prow,
returns to ancestral fire and form
emerging from the trail of cutwater.
From dawn to night we are the ribs
of great grandparents, soar like cormorants
on the green crest; offer our children
a dream stronger and bolder than rage or war.
Salt drying on our face and hands braids
our bodies into spirals of dusk,
evening star and Milky Way, hones
us for the split hurdle as we speak
with night weavers like the old growth
voice of red cedar dipping into light
who mirrors our coming-home story.

From Learning to Live with Darkness Like the Crows, Self-published Chapbook
Duane Niatum, Tacoma, Moon of Dry Grass, 1997, revised 10/97
© 1997 Duane Niatum

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