Manhattan Tobacco Ceremony
Eva M. Olsgard
My mother sends me a postcard
of a dock in Ashland harbor
where we once went walking
when I was home visiting
after several years away.
There is a word in Ojibwa
for the day the poplar leaves
grow large enough to speak
when rustled by the wind.
She uttered the word North, over water,
wind sucking it down and aft like ashes
dumped over a speeding vesselís prow.
We walked the chilly streets
looking for the foundation
of the port town on which Ashland was built.
At every corner, a young sapling shivered.
It is hard to read the history of Ashland.
Many records were burned in the same fire
that burned the old city to the ground.
What remains are empty ore docks,
rust red compass needles pointing away
from land, out through the Great Lakes
and the Saint Lawrence to the East.
Her postcard reaches me
at my S.R.O. in Harlem.
Here, there are no four directions.
Uptown. Downtown. Crosstown.
All direction is relative depending
on the tallest building in sight.
The tobacco ceremony is so efficient,
here, you would never know
there were Indians living in Manhattan.
Except for the evidence: pennies
in the gutter, cigarette butts ground
into the trunk of an old tree.