Paul Engle Poems >>
America Remembers

HERE by this midland lake, the sand-shored water
That pulses with no sea-tide heart, where the grain
Of a nation pauses on its golden way
To the world's belly, and the long trains plunge-
From the honey-hearted South (O go down, Moses),
From the land of the shining mountains the cloud-high
West where the Indian god and the Indian ghost
Ride down the Montana wind, from the England-feigning
States beating back the Atlantic-traveled
Surf, from the winter-flinging North, the maple
Leaf land-here at the prairie's edge, that
Mocker of ocean in the wide earth, where they raise
These buildings shaped with light to mark my living
Briefly in this place, by the Michigan curve
(O Dearborn cabins, the heart-cringing cry, the hair
Ripped from the skull, the child brained on the wall-
Now the blue iris bloom in the spring from the rich earth):
                         Here I remember the strange
Way I have had in this land, the incredible
Trail I have followed to this sun-bright morning
By the lake bend. I remember the continent
Wheeling to the sun when by day its sounds were calm
Sounds-the wild elk calling in the windy hills,
Song of the spirit-painted arrow, the partridge
Drum on the hollow log, the reverent prayer
Of the lonely Huron paddler to the water;
By night the silence of a land asleep, only
The unimaginable cry of earth
Working its ancient states of being, the crash
Of rain-corroded stone, the delicate shudder
Of leaves, the crumble of root-split sand, the river's
Multitude of muted voices murmuring.
                        I remember men, callers
To gods in the gusty rain, to the thunder birds,
Chippers of flint, scratchers of soil thinly
(Now has the earth been torn with the anvil-hammered
Plough deeply for our hunger, and the black shaft sunk).
The trail through the hills was moccasin wide and a stone
Twisted it, the rivers were swum. (What of this
Concrete trampling the wild arum, the arched bridge?)
The continent lived on its own and eternal way
Dreamless of change.
               I remember the sea-defying
Ships that came from the East with the life-fulfilling
Sun, the scooped earth and the blood-crying sword lifted
To heaven, the god pledged, and after, the heel
Print in the sand was a brief thing.
                    I remember the first-coming men
With the English voices crying the harsh praise
Of a stern and awful god; the rotten fish
In the corn hill, the half-chinked cabin, the secret dead
In the first winter, the women wailing the abandoned
Home over the cold ocean, the little children
Who could not lie in the family burial lot
With their grandfathers, but had to bear a grave
In a new and lonely earth. (It was a strange thing
When the first white men took their Christian hearts
Under the pagan land-Did the haunting spirits
Of red braves who had peopled their hills with gods
Shaped in their own image, who could not see
The hallowed bones of their ancestral dead
Crushed by the plough, rise up and drive the pale
Ghosts howling back across the sea to wander
The mountainous winds of the world, with neither
The old home nor the new to shelter them?) And always
The great hand of memory gripping the heart. In the North
The fur-searching French, the Jesuit priest
With no warmth from the skin-splitting cold but the hard flame
Of a close and living God:
                    ("My Reverend Father,
The peace of Christ be with you. From Tadoussac
In this barbarous land I write you. Our life
Is a long and slow martyrdom, moose hair
Defiles our food, we wipe our hands on the hairy dogs.
I have baptized one, a scrofulous son of despairing parents,
Dying within the hour. I tell you we carry
Many crosses, our hands bleed, but we do not all die,
  Thanks be to God.")
             I remember Atlantic towns and striding
War, the dwindling army, and the English soul
Plunged seven years in flame and steel and become
The American soul-O strange, strong thing! And over
The land ranged the unique American dream
Of the common man and his right before all men
To shape his own peculiar single self
Tempered in the wild flame of beating out
On the huge anvil of the wilderness
A young and iron nation.
                  Land hunger drove them
West with the arc of the sun on the scant, blazed road
And the Boone way; the Wilderness Road through the Gap
To the Bloody Ground, and the salt licks, forever
Thrusting beyond the Appalachian valleys
The frail and fumbling fingers that would grow
To the brawny-fisted arms of empire. On
Into the prairie where the winds were lost
In the great stretches of the grass, and a man
Might dig into the hard mysterious deeps
Of his own soul and never reach the end
Till the pick shattered on the bedded rock
And the tired hands dropped.
                     Bracing themselves against
The Mississippi banks, they lunged unendingly
Up the Missouri and the Platte till the faint
Indian paths and the day-wide buffalo runs
Were crisscrossed and tramped out by wagon roads:
Oregon trail and the lonely mountain dying,
Santa F� and the bones of the Spanish dream
That once had run across the land with laughter
And a sun-dark Southern body (Coronoado, sleep),
The California and the waterless
Death of the desert mother where the sand
Sifted into the heart and the child cried
With swollen tongue, and the delirium
Came early with the morning sun-but beyond was gold
And the red flesh fought and rotted for that yellow
Softness beyond the stinking Humboldt Sink.

These were not heroes with the gods behind them
But humble people, clerks and farmers, merchants,
Soldiers and traders, foreign-speaking men,
Cobblers and carpenters, preachers, even, and tailors,
Many with wives and children, who, had they known
The actual danger, would have been content
To let the wild dream go, and let the West
Be their own familiar fields where sunset
Lingered an hour in twilight before it ran
The Juaniata with bare feet and jumped the peaks.
These were simple folk, but chosen to prove again
That when a man and his destiny have met
In the high narrow place where there is room
For only one, man with a shout will rise
And laugh into the eager face of death
To loom an hour against the fires of fate
Somehow divine, but always with his feet
Touching the proud and certain earth.
                           These were
Family affairs, with the kids, the treasured
Rose cuttings from back East, the horses named, the dog
Wise in the family ways, the longing for home
Where the soil was deep (O bare New Hampshire fields) and wind
Came a vast way to the little garden:
                            (Virgin body
Of rich American earth, the silver stroking
Of the smooth hands of ploughs mated you to those
Men, and the lusty seeds of the new corn struck
Their roots in Missouri River silt where the naked
Dakota squaws danced fertility in you
From the moonlight-are you not weary with long bearing
To so many strangely speaking sires?)
                              I remember
The bayberry candles, frail flicker in the wolf-howling
Night, the hearth swept with the turkey wing;
The council lodges shoved to the stony West
Where the Indian mind was split with the arrow-sharp
Hate, the too-tight-drawn bow snapped, the tribes
Gathered to the last riding, and Reno came.
The Yellowstone, the Platte, the Niobrara
(Lovely, Greek-sounding name), the mountain-coiling
Snake, were silvered wit the horse-dashed spray. They met
There in the great eye-wearying West: Gall
Whose heart was bitter as his name, Chief Joseph,
Roman Nose, Sitting Bull, Black Kettle,
Proud chiefs, good horsemen, with the iron body and the iron
Will, pious before their own gods in their own way, hard
Fighters with the desperate home-defending courage,
The arrows sang their bitter songs, the feathers
Crimsoned in the stuck breast, the rifles
Shouted with brazen steel voices over the blood-thick
Whoop from the pierced throat, and the Indian women
Knew that the white faces were the Indian doom.
These proudest and most life-passionate men
Of all the American passage through the wide lands
Grubbed out their lives at the potato patch, although
The wind yet had certain words for them, and the chant
Was sung again in the mountain night. When their bones
Were buried with strange white prayers in the new
Government cemeteries on the sandy hills
Of the barren reservation fields where none
Of their kind had slept before (Being brave men
They were content to die, but sad not to rest
In the friendly graves of the tribal burying ground
Where the spirits of the place were known, and a man's
Horse was slain above him and his bow
Placed unstrung in his hand), a vital portion
Of the American soul forever passed away.

The cities came and the sun-following men
Struck the Pacific and the force of their traveling
Flung them back over the way they had come.
The North and the South brothers fought to declare
Whether there should be one power in the land or many;
The North won, bitterly, in the mightiest war
The world had seen, and the hurt and suffering parts
Were joined again to a whole, the outflung hands
Knew again the body that held them. And after
The shambling states with the red bandana tied
Loose at the throat and the pants pushed into the boot top
Became a nation and the world knew it.
                             And all
The pulses of the earth were stirred by the pounding
Heart of America and poured their blood
Over the great sea arteries, finding
Sometimes a country like their own, the Finns
By the Minnesota lakes, the Germans over
The prairie farms of Iowa, the English
In the Berkshire hills and valleys. The Southern folk
Left the gay dances, the vineyards mellowed with sunlight
On the terraced hills, and as Wop and Dago joined
Polack and Bohunk in the towns of steel
Where the great fires burned their guts out - Bethlehem
(O mockery of the little Christ-found village), Gary,
Youngstown, the hard, trip-hammer-beaten names.
The ancient features of the type were changed
Under a different sun, in a clearer air
That entered the lungs like wine, the swarthy face
Paled, cheek bones lifted and narrowed, hair
Straightened and faded, and the body moved
With a lighter step, the toes springy, the eyes
Eager as a bird's, and every man
Had a coiled spring in his nerves that drive him
In a restless fury of life.
                     The bloods mingled
Madly, the red flame of the sons of men
Who had rowed Ulysses on the wine-dark sea
Burned in the pale blue eyes of the North, eyes hardened
With centuries of staring from Viking masts
Into the unknown oceans-Leif the Lucky
Once beached their dragon-headed prows on the bare
Coast of this land, the first white man. (Who knows
What strange, multi-fathered child will come
Out of the nervous travail of these bloods
To fashion in a new world continent
A newer breed of men?)
                  Money and noise
Came with the clang of steel day long, night long, the nervous
Body that could not sleep, but moaned and mumbled
From dawn to dawn, and would not quiet but screamed
Through the salary-earning day, through the night
Of the dinner-pail pause, shouting to make the useful
Thing, the device of comfort, and always, always
Make more, make more!-O cruel mechanic soul.
(Great drummer, you have beat so long that barren
Chant it has become your blood and heart
With a wild hypnosis that will never stop
Till the made drum break and the dulled brain hear again
The simple sounds of the earth.)
                        A new war ranged the world,
And the fatal Horsemen rode, their bloody hoofs
Beating even these Europe-fronting beaches,
And this destiny moved outward to the farthest
Of the man-living lands. But the American
Soul, that should have soared, flapped in the driving wind
That blew with the stench of sweat and oil and the fetid
Fat breath that cried for gold. The rational
Imagination brooding on the stuff of earth,
Lucid science like a living spirit
Shaping the crude ways of light, was held only
As the convenient author of our ease.
Eyes that watched their ships circle the ultimate
Oceans of earth could not see beyond
The diamonds flashing their hands. (You gave us shoes
For our feet, shirts, for our backs, will you not give us
Power and peace for our hearts?)
                           The ships bring few now.
It is strange to be a land of no more coming, of no
Men turned to the sun-refuge West. In the New England
Villages the dead are a more populous city
Than the living-death has entered into the being
Of these states and will be with them forever
Making them dreadful of time.
                      Where shall they go
Now, the forever westward-wandering people?
They cannot be quiet, they cannot rest, they would not
Be American if they could do that. I tell them: You
Shall fit again the curved felloe, and with the bucket
Swinging under the wagon, the slouch-gaited hound
Following its restless shade patch, plunge
Into that vaster and more savage West,
The unfamiliar country of your heart.
With a new axe you shall build the clay-chinked cabin
On heights where the Sierras are as hills
And the heaven-harrying eagle hurls the wind,
Or in fire-running prairies where the autumn ducks
Shatter cold moonlight on a thousand lakes.
And wear the coonskin cap, jauntily if you will!
But when your fields bear greatly, the nearest neighbor
A hundred miles away confines you, your fences
Cut the horizon, the new house almost roofed
Look one long evening down the cattle-trampled
Lane to the road where the last East-fleeing wagon's
Dust hangs in the air, and all the golden light
Of the westward-falling sun is a madman's song
As man-compelling as death - pack that night.
Let morning show the new shingles on the roof
Behind you, the hand-worn, finger-softened reins
Loose at the bit.
             Wander that land until your life has shaped
Over the last grave in the unmarked grass
A soul as splendid as your long going-up-and-down
In that land (O England-forgetting, self-creating heart!) so you
May shout out of dawn above the last night's fire
Before you swing again with the arc of the sun, a song
That will defy the little interval of man
In this American earth, so his memory in the world
Will last as long as light roams through the hollow
Ways of heaven. And at the weary evening camp, O thrust
Your hands to the waning sun, they will not crisp
But rather will hold the sun between their palms
Till they become eternal as its flame
And a perpetual light unto the face.

Then will be time for you to forge your own
Singular vision of eternity.
You, with behind you the American faith,
Shall find out, more profoundly now than ever
The thoughtful nations of the world have known,
The deep spirituality of man.
                      O remember
That in the general doom of nations, there
Is but one certain immortality
(After the wind has ripped the last bright flag
To bird-mocked tatters of despair, after
The muffled horns of fate have mumbled out
The last low taps, after an alien hand
Has ploughed the barley fields, an alien tongue
Cried in the streets), and that is not the thrust
Of courage against the world, nor the beating down
Of all the barriers of a continent
However bravely - but the searching out
Of the new way that a new country makes,
From all the blind impulses of its life,
A vision of the universal heart
That recreates the living form of man
In the unique and individual way
That is the shape and spirit of that land.
O let your eyes be subtle as a bird's
To glean in the harvest fields of history
The spilled-out grain of truth.
                       And while you front
Your fate between the ocean and the ocean
Let the American quality, the dream
Of a land where men shall work their destiny
Deeply as they will, give you the power
To realize with proud and reverent heart
The strange identity of man as man
And fling it up against the dark of time
Where it may loom forever as the bright
Image of godhead in the simple man
That now has risen from this American earth
And shall but with the bitter end of things
Go back again into the humble earth.
                           Here at the Windy City
Where the long trains whistle by the sun-loud lake
I shall remember these men in my land.