Three poems honoring the Taino people
by Ward Kelley
In Stalker Animals and Rocks
Their buttock skin was the forlorn color
of ocean salt bleached away from the water
and left on a rock when the tide has left us.
Their water craft was as large
as our village, and they fastened
flattened clouds to its trees.
Even though they were sickly,
they still appeared to us as friends,
and we gave them food and wives.
They built odd homes from the bodies
of palms, but day by day they gave up
the unusual apparel they brought.
Soon their buttock skin darkened,
and they appeared more at ease
with the jungles of our minds.
Our own wishes are snared by palms and leaves . . .
while their hopes seemed to live
in stalker animals and rocks.
None of our ancestors
encountered men such as these,
so they could not tell us how to live with them.
They did seem to approve of our hammocks . . .
a better discovery, it now appears to us ghosts,
then the few fragments of gold they took
from us before the diseases bleached us away.
They Are Not Gods
My wife has drowned our two children . . .
I have heard this gossip coming
from our village.
I dig in this hill, far from home, with other
men from my village; many of them
are dying . . .
These white beasts, who force us to labor
like this, are not gods, although we first
thought they were . . .
My strength is leaving my body,
and I fear I cannot continue
in this world.
The other men dying here with me
in this cave understand why my wife
killed our babies
but they will not speak of it . . .
we try not to talk of our lives
before the white beasts,
for to speak these words is to ache.
Now That We Are Ghosts
Now that we are ghosts, and our flesh
is diminished and no longer part of the land;
now that we no longer swim in the seas
around our islands; now that we no
longer can touch our wives and children . . .
Now that we are wisps of truth, spirits
darting throughout the vegetation
of breathing minds; now that we are
intuition, hummingbirds drinking
the nectar of thoughts, conspiring . . .
Now that we are ghosts, it is easier
to see this chore we have chosen
for our tribe, for we are nameless
to most everyone outside our clan . . .
and that is why we have committed.
Who better than a tribe who has absorbed
such annihilation, who has learned how to
become proper ghosts, who better than us
to whisper thoughts of forgiveness into
the ears of white poets who hear arcane
messages that us ghosts would like filtered
to those in the breathing who suffer . . .
suffering is the hammock of forgiveness,
you know, and you can lay down with us
and sigh, once you discern the cloth and binding.