Monuments To Magnificence

by Gerard Donnelly Smith

January 19, 2004



Mount Rushmore
(for Leanord Peltier)
Inscribed in granite, these dictators who conquered this continent,
who immortalized them here in boldfaced hypocrisy about humanity, equality, and liberty?
Still they glitter like gold, these virtuous words, like nuggets of
truth from the Little Big Horn, swirling around in a pan with other
words being sorted out.
Being sorted out like dirt from mineral, like tailings from ore, like people from the land,
like meaning from a word, like truth from bullshit.
Described in those faces, in the upturned stone smiles,
in the bloodless stone stares, is not a virtuous countenance,
but an ironic caricature of each upturned, sodden face
the tourists turn toward the gods of their republic.
Described in brochures, a memorial park for "animals and plants
representative of the Black Hills of South Dakota" to "memorializes
the birth, growth, preservation and development of the United States of America."
Rounding up the Buffalo for Theodore's dinner, here in the Shrine of Democracy,
they sing "My country 'tis of thee and let freedom ring from every mountain."
A million tongues devoured, and millions more made mute by the carnage
lining the great Pacific railroad: its track a long scar, like stitch-lines outlining the lacerations,
the deep cuts carved into the flesh of America,
leading straight to these stone heads, echoing the songs of patriots.
An already sacred place formed into a sacred shrine, as if we carved Hitler's face into Mt. Sinai.
At sunset as lights illuminate the faithful, imagine
them singing "America, America, above all others"
and whistling "Gary Owen."


Devil's Tower
(for James Craven)
Scratched into sacred cedar, the long scars from the bear's claws,
now pigeon holed by pinions, and rotting cords left by climbers.
Yes, they have found the sacred, here in the hills. Rising
a symbol formed from the landscape to commemorate a passing,
a resting place between a journey from here to there,
from this earth into the sky, their paths scale upward.
Each climber seeing the same panorama, the same topography
spilling out of the horizon as each climbs higher.
Which see the resting place of immigrant ancestors,
which the fleeing relation, or lone survivor, last refugee?
How many the exploring pioneer going West, as they ascend
the myth turned into a symbol of their republic's epic struggle.
Each year for 30 days they come, those who see their fleeing relations,
see the boy turned bear chasing his sisters into the tree
turned into a mountain; those first climbers still flee,
are even now changing into stars before their brother's startled eyes,
changing as the story teller weaves her web of time.
Round the tree the bear dancer moves, its stone bark echoes
the wooden drums' call to life: the campers at the KOA
toss in their sleep as the transformation begins, as the boy
turns into bear, as girls turn into stars.
This lost tribe of Israel, then turns to its technology:
the myth of the future descends upon the Tower. Salvation
from the stars; from the seven-sisters comes
some song of universal peace; from minds tormented
by some infernal voice, a symbol of hope takes shape,
in the midst of the toxic landscape of their culture,
a better place, a place without time arises. The motif,
always the same deus ex machina dispensing cosmic irony, but never
magic, never transformation, never boys turning into bears,
and girls turning into stars.
Into stars may we fall, into stars may we ascend,
through this transformation may we weave a new story,
a story about how a myth of domination failed, how
a myth of transformation survived, about how the spirit
of big bear speaks.

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Poetry on Swans


Gerard Donnelly Smith, a poet and musician, teaches creative writing, literature and composition at Clark College in Vancouver WA. CERRO de la ESTRELLA (Logan Elm Press, 1992) was chosen for The Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio, 1992. Excerpts from THE AMERICAN CORPSE (10 poems) were published in Apex of the M in 1995. He is the current director of the Columbia Writers Series, an Honorary Board Member of The Mountain Writers Series, and co-advisor of the Native American Student Council at Clark College. He has also organized readings for Poets Against the War.

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Published January 19, 2004
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