Friday, March 13, 2009

Poems from Binghamton

Despite its post-industrial grimness, Binghamton has a treasure of creative people - artists, musicians & painters. Who knows why? The low rent? One friend once told me that after living in the Southwest, he wanted to move to a place that was shrinking in population. He chose the right place.

I had the idea of augmenting this virtual tour of the area by including some work created by the locals. Here are some poems by my good friend Susan Deer Cloud. Born in the Catskills, Susan has been residing in Binghamton for many years. Here are some of sites where you can read her work.

Above are some photos taken yesterday. The one with the bridge is of the area called the confluence, written about in one of her poems included below.

Rain Walk to Confluence of Chenango & Susquehanna

You never thought you could be so happy at rain galloping

in like a thousand appaloosas, but this late September storm

after three moons of fierce suns, parching heats, has your heart

riding bareback the cooling horse winds, some old freedom

quivering red inside the gusting greys. You leave your house,

dance down to rivers mingling at a beautiful place of

sorrow, where generals once ordered men to burn

Indian crops, starve your ancestors until they begged

to surrender. Yours never did.

Yes, you splash through puddles, rain cries down

like love on long silver mane of hair, on eyes

smiling, remembering girlhood obsession

with stallions, dreams of riding away

to places where no one knew shame, poverty,

what it feels like to choke down words

wanting to speak proud of that blood called

Indian. September – moon of your mother’s birth.

Early fall rain always reminds you of her

Seneca eyes, how their greyness

lit your way to gathering shine in your hurt

hands, even in a bridled

sunset like this.

(c) Susan Deer Cloud

Confluence Anthology


As my father drives our green Chevy

into the dark town, my mother lifts me

above the dashboard to the front window,

where, past my tiny ghost face

reflected in the rushing glass, I see

my first city, upstate

Binghamton, New York, high, grey

rectangles and squares of lighted stores

with bald mannequins staring (nightmare) back at me.

The city is a sea, saloons, restaurants,

hot swing music drifting on the summer air,

and beautiful women

silhouetted against the jump and flash

of blue neon, laughing

at men passing along the long street

my father steers the Chevy through, that

parts this sea. My brothers play Indian

in the back seat, I smell Evening of Paris

on my mother’s skin, she sings to me,

and I don’t know the name for anyone, yet.

We stop, and my mother gives me over

to my father’s arms. He carries me

up a narrow stairwell, as the cracked

ceiling curves closer, the naked bulb

at the top of the stairs, the peeling door

opened by an old woman, my great aunt Grace.

“Grace,” the adults say to me, “say Grace,”

as my small tongue moves against my toothless mouth,

and my father places me, now, in my aunt’s lap,

she, toothless as myself, bird brown crone

bending over me, her hair cascading like moonbeams

silvering my skin blossomed into a secret flower,

and I say it, “Grace,” as she rocks me into dream.

© Susan Deer Cloud

The Broken Hoop

& In the Moon When the Deer Lose Their Horns

Driving Home Tonight

Driving home tonight from the Angela Davis lecture,

I wanted to forget all she said about prisons

and backdoor slavery and how many more

minorities are in prison than whites. Driving home

the lights across the Susquehanna twinkled

like the stars of my mountain childhood –

the road curved like a dream along the curve

of the hill, as it became a trail of taillights,

headlights, and memories shining far back

to Catskills, where I used to be cradled in

my mother’s arms as my father drove Old Route 17

at night between Liberty and Livingston Manor.

The car lights were like stars come down to earth,

and it seemed all I had to do was reach out the old

Chevy window to gather them in my small hands.

Now my hands are growing wrinkled, my eyes

weighed down with 53 years of highways

and the truckstops of knowledge. I thought of you

as I drove by the river, of the time you were in

jail and of the white man who put you there.

He’s dead now and all this beauty of road and water

will never be his. You are alive –

heron blazing up blue in night memory

free as love.

© Susan Deer Cloud

The Last Ceremony