for Rick Hill and in memory of Buster Mitchell

I
Steel arches up
past the customs sheds,
the bridge to a place
named Canada,
thrust into Mohawk land.

A dull rainbow
arcing over
the new school,
designed to fan
out like the tail
of the drumming Partridge—
dark feathers of the old way's pride
mixed in with blessed Kateri's
pale dreams of sacred water.

II
When that first span
fell in 1907
cantilevered shapes collapsed,
gave like an old man's
arthritic back.

The tide was out,
the injured lay trapped like game in a deadfall
all through that day
until the evening.
Then, as tide came in,
the priest crawled
through the wreckage,
giving last rites
to the drowning.

III
Loading on,
the cable lifts.
Girders swing
and sing in sun.
Tacked to the sky,
reflecting wind,
long knife-blade mirrors
they fall like jackstraws
when they hit the top
of the big boom's run.

The cable looped,
the buzzer man
pushes a button
red as sunset.
The mosquito whine
of the motor whirrs
bare bones up to
the men who stand
an edge defined
on either side
by a long way down.

IV
Those who hold papers
claim to have ownership
of buildings and land.
They do not see the hands
which placed each rivet.
They do not hear the feet
walking each hidden beam.
They do not hear the whisper
of strong clan names.
They do not see the faces
of men who remain
unseen as those girders
which strengthen and shape.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Joseph Bruchac, "Steel" from Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Bruchac.  Reprinted by permission of Joseph Bruchac.

  • Source: Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (University of Arizona Press, 2011)

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"What really makes a poem dynamic is not the use of grand gestures. Rather, it is the tones and expressions of the voice that help listeners connect and understand the meaning of a poem."
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2017 USVI POL Champ