Sunday, October 30, 2005

"Cuyahoga"

I spent a week once at Little Bighorn, the site of Custer's Last Stand - the final flourish of the Indian nations before they bent to the white man's yoke and were shuttled out of existence. The battle was never properly documented and not one American soldier survived, and so the only accounts of it are pieced together from rumor, Indian pictograms and more recent forensic research.
When you walk the battlefield, waving your hands among the tall grasses that wash past you like waves, rising and falling with the breeze, you feel the ghosts, the souls who were never properly laid to rest in the fury of the battle. Stone markers denote the passage of battle, anonymous gravestones, single ones at first, then in ones and twos until finally, at the end of the bluff, you face a black iron fence that surrounds a cluster of forty or so markers, the soldiers who made it to the last stand. And in the middle, inlaid with black, is Custer's grave, the last great American "martyr" to their unjust cause.
So passed the American Indian - or should we say "Native American": that is, the ones who were there first, who got railroaded, cheated, force-marched, swindled, lied to, subverted, massacred and finally reservationed, stripped of dignity by the greedy, hungry, lustful, covetous, blind sons and daughters of Europe. "Let's put our heads together/And start a new country up/Our father's father's father tried, erased the parts he didn't like," sings Michael Stipe. "This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced and sang/Take a picture here, take a souvenir."
As an indictment of the devastation, the genocide the American people wrought, this is not an angry song; it's a gentle, left-field lament for the innocent and a long, sad look at the savage ignorance that followed in the wake of the continental "clearance" - a reference to the pollution that caused the Cuyahoga river to literally burn in the late 1960s - but most of all, it's a timely reminder of the ignorant wickedness that was committed. "Rewrite the book and rule the pages, saving face, secured in faith/Bury, burn the waste behind you."

1 comment:

Will said...

There's a great song from an obscure, little-heard group called Adam Again -- the song is "River on Fire." It was inspired by the pollution-fueled fires on the same river, but takes the concept to an entirely different dimension. Well worth finding & hearing.