The Catlin Staircase, Smithsonian American Art Museum
the eyes of Catlin Indians
on the Chinatown stairs
drove down upon us like horse breath
there we saw Bow and Quiver
whose nose and brow and mouth snarled
like the boar tusk hanging from his neck
he wore feathers dyed in bull’s blood
and shells like giant Comanche moons
on the stairs we saw Persimmon Gap
when the horse hooves rained down
upon the desert a mile wide cloud
we saw the Osage who had fought
the Iroquois a thousand years
and who broke the plains
like floodwaters carving canyon
from the east marched the civilized tribes
of Cherokee and Chickasaw and Seminole
of Creek and Choctaw
who learned letters and law and shame
from north east and west they descended
the paintings quaked along the banister
and sang of pox and cholera
and of where the dead built caves in the earth
where the horses would not tread
they sang of dead men and dead buffalo
and the betrayal at Adobe Walls
and as they sang their lips smoldered
and the plains wept buffalo blood
while your braids wept Chinatown rain
Editor's note: The George Catlin Staircase is a curved stairwell at the Smithsonian Museum that features a display of the artist's portraits of North American Indians. Catlin was moved to document vanishing peoples after being moved by an encounter with a First Nations man when he was a child. His countless portraits of people and their surroundings provide us with one of the largest pre-photography records of native North Americans. You can see the staircase by clicking here.
J.R. Forman is a lecturer in English and Liberal Arts at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Dallas and his B.A. from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His poetry has appeared in Ramify, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and A Packet of Poems for Ezra Pound (Clemson University Press).
4/18/2018 11:33:17 am
Outstanding! What a wonderful insight to culture, humanity, and empathy with both culture and humanity!! Makes this old heart so proud of the author and of the message so beautifully expressed!!
4/18/2018 12:23:16 pm
Truly captures the imagery of Native Peoples’ perspectives.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
The Ekphrastic Review
Join us on Facebook: