Poetry for Peltier


Fifth Estate # 350, Fall, 1997

For 22 years the doors of justice have been closed to Leonard Peltier. Now, the door may be opening a crack. A few months ago AIM activist Dennis Banks announced that Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, had agreed to hold oversight hearings into the events leading to Peltier’s arrest and conviction. Wounded Knee, the COINTELPRO programs against AIM, Peltier’s illegal extradition from Canada, and the many irregularities in his trial will be among the issues brought to light.

The Northwest Leonard Peltier Support Network has announced an International Indigenous Peoples’ Day March on the U.S./ Canadian Border for Justice for Leonard Peltier and the First Nations to take place on October 10-12, 1997. Events include a Rally for Justice at Olympia, the state capital, a caravan to the border, a “Run for Justice” and a mass meeting in Bellingham, Washington. The organizers need money and help. Contact them at POB 5464, Tacoma WA 98415-0464, tel. 253-3839108.

Here in Detroit, through the efforts of persistent Peltier supporter Mick Vranich and others, the annual Peltier benefit was held at the Cass Cafe in March to raise funds for Peltier and inform the local community of his situation. Emceed by storyteller and former FE staffer and White Panther political prisoner Pun Plamondon, the event featured readings from poets Alise Alousi, Mark Grafe, Chris Monhollen, Dennis Teichman, Chris Tysh, José L. Garza and FE staffer David Watson.

A literature and information table was supplied by Kevin Kamps and friends from the World Tree Peace Center (POB 50814, Kalamazoo MI 49005). Mick’s musical/poetry ensemble, with musicians John Bardy, The Blackman, Jim Johnson, Akulahti and Eric Walworth accompanying his poetry, ended the evening with a powerful performance. The poems here were among those read for Peltier.

shanghai (poem from Continuity Girl)

broadened to include funereal piers

which is to say not the slit already suspect

that opens in the paddy fields but the camp

itself, unrelated to forgetting from soldier

to prisoner passing his hands from truckfloor to water without even a hint of what must be

told one day: the body that burns in advance

jams, at the skin, the shortwave crackle of these events

that it seek place on the rolled up scroll

as marker or history depends on the economy

of knowing. Slack motor across the compound.

Gangs, sentries and flies like a camouflage

matinee cut up before the squatting crowd

framed and separate from the letters of war

by a running fence, its barbed meaning

not yet trenchant nor plain

— Chris Tysh

Disorderly Conduct

(waiting for the Woodward bus because you took all my money, and the car keys, Detroit, Jan. 21, 1997)

Dazed and confused, tequila blues,

I tighten my belt a notch

because you said so, sentenced

to riding the pinche* D.O.T. bus

in winterized, pulverized 1997.

Chasing this pinche puppy tail life around,

makes a person want to say

pinche all the time ’cause

you said so made it all come true.

Ambushed by Godzilla and Rodan imposters,

your pinche friends not mine.

One of these glorious, wondrous pinche

I am going to win la pinche

loteria, the million dollar lottery,

y despues I can afford without regrets

my own pinche book of poems

with only the word pinche in it;

repeated time and again

because you deemed it so,

flowing from the pinche tongue,

the pen, the pinche broken vida/heart

you so expertly, surgically removed

with your dull knife/knife of secret revel

Thank you so pinche much.

— José L. Garza
*pinche = damned, forsaken

Butterfly Effect

“May your feet imitate heaven.”
— Theodore Roethke

Not flailing

but dancing close in,

the orrery of the limbs


what the body wants.

Energy most fierce

inside the thin ribbon

of restraint,

movements small as seeds

or butterfly flap

igniting hurricanes.

The spine supple as a mast

at full sail

stretching from tap-root

to sky,

birds singing in the spars.

The hands of my beloved two whisps of cloud.

— David Watson


Wind-spewn acres

and a monstrous sun cradle vapors

of Indian ghosts dying over again

A woman stands weeping

her flesh obedient

her hunger a dialogue

her language is time

her cries extend the sea

Slender and golden

the moon marks a promise

the shadow haunts itself

I speak to you of madness

I speak to you of a violent stare

taking eyes to another form

I speak to you in a soft voice

with thickness of emotion

and the lightness of a body

walking from the night

the day is tangled in body salt

the sun resides in the wait

What burns inside you is melted

what is taken with you is yours

— Christine Monhollen, 3/97