Michael Campagnoli


I. Moose Calling Moon  

Women are bunched
in twos and threes.
Peeling pulp, soaking sweet grass,
threading porcupine quills. 
Heads bowed, mouths pursed,
bending the flattened quills
zig-zag like a braid.

Rolling down
the Finn Town Road,
comes a muffled roar.
Heads lift--
      first one,
      then the others.

They watch
two white men
drive by
in a big bloated beat-up
Buick.  An 8-racked
redbrown buck strapped to the hood,
the long, graceful neck twisted
like rodeo steer.

Tires screech on the blacktop.
The Buick skids the turn,
squeals up the causeway.
The women smile.
Look at each other.

White men.

I. First Blood

The November I was twelve,
Me and Charley Daylight
and Old Joe Attean
crossed wordless
the cedar swamp that some
called "Half-there."

Up in the puckerbrush,
I spotted a doe
grazing lichen on the lip
of the ridge.
Joe nodded me.
I steadied and squeezed.

The recoil punched back,
lurched forward.  The shot
entered, behind a shoulder
somewhere near a rib.  The
doe flipped
head over hoof,
bounced and ran.
  I swung to,
breathing hard up the hill,
but mid way up
Old Joe grabbed me.

"Dark blood," he said,
pointing to the ground
where the doe had been.
"First good cover,
she'll rest.  Stiffen.
He flattened a palm
against my pounding chest.  "Now,
we wait."

Joe took out his pipe,
bunched his shoulders,
squatted on his heels.
Skin taut and smooth
as copper.  Body
stooped, rugged,
an in-toed walk.  He smelled
like deer meat tasted.
A good man
for a boy with no father.

We waited.

The wind moved in the branches
of the trees -- bare November
trees, thin and withered.
Shell-ice rimmed the water’s edge.
The sky was steel grey and
cold as mackerel.

"Day like this it was," Old Joe began,
in a cloud of blue smoke,
"when Sebattis Mitchell first
ran the falls at Sowdnehunk.
I was just a boy -- five,
maybe six -- ‘Ahwassus,’
they called
him, Big Bear. . "

Charley Dje’kwadis smiled.
Round-faced and timid, he
shifted weight from leg
to leg, chewed the inside
of his cheek.  Six crows,
high in a nearby scrub, taunted
and squawked.  The hollow sun
dimmed behind
a western ridge.

We found the doe,
like Joe said,
in a resting place, hedged
by birches, near the portage
where river drivers
launched their boats for passage
down the Ripongenus.
Curled she was into the tall grass.
Curved.  And the tall grass
was all wet and brown
and broken.

First blood.


When Mom came home,
she saw the doe
hanging in the barn.
Looked at Joe.
Looked at me.
I looked away.

Joe took out his knife.
Reached high.  Sliced
from tail to breastbone,
careful not to split
the chest cartilage, but
peeling back the skin
several inches on
either side, to where
the ribs connected.
I stared the carcass
in the vacant eye.
A black stain caked
and ringed its lips.  The
tongue was red and swollen,
dark red, almost purple.
Steam from the entrails
hit the cold, night air.
The viscera rolled.
The gullet fell
The blade was delivered,
  --delivered.  To the hilt
it was delivered.
The neck slit.
Split.  Like hardwood
to the wedge.  The head
plopped at my feet.

    And I  thought:
    so this is what it means to kill,
    when the wind howls across
         the frozen ground and
    your belly aches
      for    a freezerfull
        of meat?

III. Hunter’s  Moon

Charley Dje’kwadis
broke the seal
on a fifth of Wild Turkey.
"To capitalists, bro,"
he said and winked,
fat-face like a chinaman.
Charley Daylight,
friend of my youth.

a thin crust of snow
covered the ground.
The clouds were low,
the air warm and damp.
In the muffled light
a cold rain fell,
piercing the grey mist:
a night of equivocal shadows.
Across the brown river
Great Northern’s wheels
grinded endlessly
of precisioned grace)
and I,
in my room,
unable to move, un-
able to yield the slightest

Charley passed the bottle
to Old Joe Attean.  Joe,
face dark and lined,
hard as walnut,
took a deep swallow.

   "Once," he said,
eyes cloudy and vague,
already drunk, staring
at the ceiling, speaking
to his dead.

under spear-fish
moon, a time before
silent,  going towards
I stood naked
welcomed the dawn."

Charley Dje’kwadis rolled his eyes.
He smiled and bit
the few hairs of his thin
mustache.  "Here we
go again," he said.

  "Through me," Old Joe
continued, "the
wordless sun flowed
in great bright circles
in and out, joining
mind and muscle
to Gluskape’s ripe
green earth.

Daytime up on St. John Street,
Old Joe stops tourists
from the mainland.  "Want
to see Injun dance.  I can
dance for you gib me
dollars-cents."  Left-eye
closed, limping,
he shakes a hollow cow-horn
filled with shot and does
a short-step.  One of the
few who still remembers.
His soft chant
rises up against the clamor
of the mills
like baffled smoke
from a campfire.

"You end up just like him,
you don't get out of this
place," Charley Daylight
tells me.  "You smart.  Went
to collitch.  Get a job.  Be

"What about you?" I ask.

"Me?  I’m just another dumb Indian."

"Bestowing wisdom,"
Joe announced, placing
a withered hand on my arm.
"Words," he said, urgent,
like this time it was different,
not just the drink
talking, "Words without language--

"You tell ‘em," Charley
Daylight hollered, cupping
his mouth with one
hand and raising
the bottle.

"Not mind," Joe declared,
"but heart and sinew
and blood.  Truths that will
outlast the white man."

A Pure Man, a Runner;
the best hunter
in the tribe.  A life
fashioned by wit, pure
and simple, lived in the
split-second of time.

Joe brought his fist
down hard on the
arm of my pink-stuffed
chair, then stood up

steadied himself. 
The milky eyes snapped clear.
He took a deep breath.

"Pumping," he cried,
"Pumping!  Defying utterance!"
On a roll now, voice strong,
eyes bright and luminous.

"My feet planted
       in the rich black earth.
       I relinquished myself--
       welcomed the tree, the flower, the
       moose, the tomcod, the bear,
       the beaver, the musk of woman,
       the rutting juices
       of man’s stiff youth."

"Go, Ma’ndoam’ek, go!" Charley
Daylight shouted, taking a long
pull on the Wild Turkey.

"The sweet taste of muskrat tail
       pulled slick between your teeth,
       the sour smoke of pemmican,
       the foul stench of your own dung,
       the snot and sweat, the acrid
       breath of age, yes, these too,
       and the grass, the wind, the sky,
       the yellow meat of the sun, itself,
Unapart.  Embracing all."

Joe, his voice losing
its copper strength, opened
his brittle arms wide.

"I bequeathed
      my blood to the roots
      of a sapling, grew tall
      as a comely tree.

       Yo ho+ ho+   ho he no+
       hu wa+ ho+   yo ho+
       ho ha yo+    ho+ ya he+.

     And so I went."

Joe sank back
into my pink-stuffed chair.
His copper chin sagged
on his bony chest.  He looked
at me sadly, smiled,
and shook his head.  He
was shot.  Finished. 
No more left.

Charley Daylight,
eyes sweet and defeated,
took another swig
of the Wild Turkey, nodded
and handed
me the bottle.

We looked at each other
for a moment in silence,
then I shoved the bottle away.

I pushed myself up and
took Old Joe’s cow horn,
his ahalnan, from his side.
I gave it a few shakes just
to hear its sound.
Spreading my arms, like Joe,
I welcomed the riseless sun,
the winter-coming moon,
the river-rush of spring.
I beat the rattle in one-two
time.  Step and scuff, stamping
my heels, counterclockwise
as Old Joe taught me.

He looked up gratefully.
Blinked once, twice,
then began to cry.

Charley Dje’kwadis smiled
that fat-faced smile.  "You
one crazy Redman," he told me.
I raised the ahalnan high
as my head and struck it
with the palm of my hand.

While Great Northern’s wheels,
hot with oil-sweat, grinded
endlessly, endlessly,
I danced and chanted
far across the night.

And so I went:

     Yo ho+  ho+    ho he no+
     hu wa+ ho+     yo ho+
     ho ha yo+      ho+  ya he+.


       Dancing backward (in going
              forward toward the dawn. . .)

Previously published in New Letters

Location: Rockland, Maine
Email: alfredomichelecampagnoli@msn.com
Chapbook: Ah-meddy-ga (forthcoming, All Nations)
Publications: New Letters, New York Stories, Southern Humanities Review, etc.
Awards: New Letters Poetry Prize

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