Lucille Lang Day

 


The Family Secret

It started in Massachusetts, where pitch pine
grows with needles in bundles of three
and panic grass sways gracefully
at the edges of wetlands on Cape Cod.

The Hazards never wanted anything
revealed about the Indian—that disgrace—
but Emma told her daughter, my mother,
“Your grandfather was a Wampanoag chief.”

My mother knew that nonnative plants
like Japanese honeysuckle and trumpet vine,
with its orange-red blossoms that drew
ruby-throated hummingbirds, grew there too.

In 1919, when the flu turned to pneumonia,
Emma coughed and wheezed. Like her mother
before her, she spat bloodstained mucus
on a winter morning and knew she would die.

Huckleberry and bearberry didn’t yet
have any pink flowers, black oaks
and scrub oaks had no leaves, and no indigo
buntings or scarlet tanagers lit on the trees.

Emma’s husband couldn’t raise the children:
Ray, Fred, and my mother and Ethel, seven-
year-old twins. The Hazards brought the girls
to California and changed their last name,

but the twins never forgot the slurred whistle
of the northern cardinal, the small blue fruit
that robins plucked from red cedars, or the tale
of the strapping man with long black braids.





Welcome Home

Welcome home to Mashpee,
where snapping turtles and painted turtles bask
on logs in the marsh amid water willows,
ferns, and pickerel weed with purple flowers
reaching up from the shallows.

Welcome home to the place
where your great-grandfather whispered
to trout he caught at Santuit Pond,
then sat in a circle
and offered his pipe to Earth, Sky
and the Four Directions.

Welcome home to the coast
where your ancestors built wetuash
and gathered cranberries,
to the woods where they hunted
turkey, deer and bear,
and to the clearings clad
in goldenrods and asters
where they danced for 10,000 years.
 
Welcome home.
The elders have been waiting for you.
Listen to their drums. This is the beat
of your own heart.
Take this wampum necklace
made from the sacred shell
of the quahog clam.
When you wear it, walk in the beauty
of redroot and wild lupine
and the mystery
of the bluebird’s song.
You have much to learn.
Begin now. Welcome home.




Instructions for a Wampanoag Clambake

Wade into Popponesset Bay
to collect some Rock People—
old round stones
smoothed by the tide.

Remember Moshup, the giant
who predicted the arrival of white men.
When he said good-bye
to the People of the First Light,

he turned into a whale.
Find a place in forest shade,
make a circle, and dig
a shallow round hole for the stones.

Moshup’s friend, the giant frog,
came to the cliffs and wept.
Changed into a rock, he still sits
at Gay Head today and looks out to sea.

Before finding dry wood for the fire—
your gift from the forest—
notice the shape of the hole
and the stones: All life is a circle.

When the tide is low, gather
quahog and sickissuog clams
and plenty of rockweed,
whose stipes are loaded with brine.

Light a fire over the stones
and when the Rock People start to glow,
pile rockweed on them.
This is their blanket.

As saltwater is released
from the stipes and steam rises,
add clams, lobsters, corn,
more armfuls of rockweed.

This is the apponaug: seafood cooking.
Now thank Kehtannit, who saw
the frog’s sorrow and turned
him into a rock out of pity

and taught the People to use
the Earth, plants, animals
and water to care for themselves
after Moshup left.

The deer will always make you laugh
the mountain lion take your side,
the Star People shine on your path
if you do it this way.




Copyright © 2012 Lucille Lang Day


 
Lucille Lang Day is an award-winning poet and the author of eight poetry collections and chapbooks, most recently The Curvature of Blue (Cervena Barva, 2009). She has also published a children’s book, Chain Letter, and her memoir, Married at Fourteen, will appear from Heyday in 2012. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in such magazines and anthologies as Atlanta Review, The Hudson Review, The Threepenny Review, and New Poets of the American West (Many Voices, 2010). She received her M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University and her Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of California at Berkeley. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for 17 years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive museum in Berkeley. Her website is http://lucillelangday.com.