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What the Eagle Fan Says

A poem by Carter Revard

I strung dazzling thrones     of thunder beings
on a spiraling thread     of spinning flight,
beading dawn's blood     and blue of noon
to the gold and dark     of day's leaving,
circling with sun     the soaring heaven
over turquoise eyes     of Earth below
her silver veins,     her sable fur,
heard human relatives     hunting beneath
calling me down,     crying their need
that I bring them closer     to Wakonda's ways,
and I turned from heaven     to help them then.
When the bullet came     it caught my heart,
the hunter's hands     gave Earth its blood,
loosened light beings,     and let us float
toward the sacred center     of song in the drum,
but fixed us first     firm in tree-heart
that green knife-dancers     gave to men's knives,
ash-heart in hiding where     a deer's heart had beat,
and a one-eyed serpent     with silver-straight head
strung tiny rattles     around white softness
in beaded harmonies     of blue and red --
now I move lightly     in a man's left hand,
above dancing feet     follow the sun
around old songs     soaring toward heaven
on human breath     and I help them rise.

This poem offers thanks for the honor of being given eagle feathers which were then set into a beaded fan. It tells how the eagle in flight pierces clouds just as a beadworker's needle goes through bead or buckskin, spiraling round sky or fan-handle -- and how the eagle flies from dawn to sunset, linking day and night colors as they are linked on a Gourd Dancer's blanket (half crimson, half blue), and as they are linked in the beading of the fan's handle. The poem's form is the alliterative meter used by the Anglo-Saxon tribes, and its mode is the Anglo-Saxon 'riddle,' in which mysterious names are given to ordinary things: here trees are green light-dancers, wood is tree-heart or ash-heart, clouds are thrones of thunder-beings. I hope the one-eyed serpent will find its name in the reader's memory.

Carter Revard is an Osage Indian, Rhodes scholar, and professor of medieval English literature.

Copyright © Carter Revard, 1993. Reprinted by permission.