I learn the word for bullfrog, kanuna,
and remember when we ate frog legs—
kanuna gvtsatlvnv: white meat tender
in batter. Kanuna a-gwa-du-li.
Godvnv, crawdads, creep edges
of river shallows, skittering deeper
as I reach. Godvnv a-na-i.
Opossums are smiling pigs
under the porch, siqua utsetsas’di.
Fairy tales omit these snouted beasts
yet here they lumber through the yard
startling the dogs, teeth protruding.
Sali, persimmons, grow nearby.
I learn how siqua utsetsas’di climb
their branches to feast. Hunters shake
them to the ground and kick them.
I watch saloli, squirrels. Saloli a-na-i.
They chatter and quarrel all day.
My mother hates the mulberry tree,
guwa, because grackles gorge
and drop purple smears on laundry.
I eat its seeded sweetness and know
this summer cosmos has words.
— Denise Low
Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09, is a national board member of the Associated Writing Programs and has awards from the NEH, Lannan, Ks. Arts Commission, and Ks. Center for the Book. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations Univ., Univ. of Ks. and Univ. of Richmond. Her publications include 20 books of poetry and prose. Low grew up in Emporia and is of British, German, Delaware and Cherokee heritage. She is 5th generation Kansan. www.DeniseLow.com
2 thoughts on “1. Cherokee Lessons”
I love this! I think of all the languages that are sadly being lost and the wisdom in them.
It’s most appropriate that the first poem in the list has something to do with Indians, albeit the Cherokee and not the Kansa. At any rate, the Indians had much to teach us about life and living in harmony with Nature, but we refused to sit at their feet out of pride, arrogance, or ignorance (or a combination of all three).