Poem: “Burdens of the Day, Nov. 12, 1936”

“Burdens of the Day, Nov. 12, 1936”

by: Duane Big Eagle

On the day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,

Japan put on a dragon’s mask and marched into China.

Archduke Otto of Austria got back the Hapsburg throne

from Mussolini, who also traded Czechoslovakia to Hungary

in return for Ethiopia.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

a mongrel dog trotted out of the Louisiana forest

near the clapboard home of a WPA worker’s nameless wife.

She pulled a fair-haired healthy baby from the dog’s teeth

and named him Moses. Some thought he was the new Messiah.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

there was a savage attack on Madrid.

From Los Franceses bridge, bayonets glinted in moonlight,

and fascist batteries north of Cuatro Vientos

set another place at dinner

with a professor’s family in the Paseo de San Vicente

–a hole, really; the shell burst under the table,

killing five and wounding two children.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

a grave began to sing in Cleveland.

“Ave Maria” came up clearly from the sod

above Helen Pelczar, Franciscan lay nun, ten years dead.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

the Peruvian Indian poet, César Vallejo,

received permission to leave exile in Paris

and go to Spain for a two-month visit.

Then the governments changed their minds.

From his deathbed, he left for Spain,

and finally no one could stop him.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,

Americans could drive straight through

from one edge of the continent to the other,

and Albert Redwing, a full blood Washashe Indian,

walking down the brick streets of Harmony, Oklahoma,

clearly and suddenly heard a huge door slam.

It was no gun shot,

there was no echo,

and no one was around.

Ravens continued their cawing

from cottonwoods on the side of the hill.

Albert turned and his braids swung against his wool coat.

Four deer grazing in an open field by the fire station

disappeared.

One by one the bluebirds stopped singing

and all the foxes disappeared.

Albert felt the earth being ripped into large square fields.

Henceforth, all wounds would be sutured with barbed wire.

The day they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Albert Redwing got home just at dusk.

And soon people began arriving in cars and buggies,

their pale lights floating around the side of the hill.

That night they worked on singing the world back together.

That night the sound of the drum

rolled across the land like a heart beat.

On the day after they opened the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,

in the early hours of the morning,

Albert Redwing came upstairs

to his sleeping wife and children.

With their dream hands they took his drum

and eased him into bed.

With their dream hearts they summoned his song

and sent it out again to search the red dawn

for those not strong enough to stand,

for those overcome by fear,

for those thrown down by those who can’t see

that they fling themselves down,

for those whose names are hidden,

for those whose poverty costs them a fortune,

for those who can’t see that truth always contradicts itself,

for the earth whose arms of abundance are about to close,

for those who can’t see that they

are the strands that weave the world together.

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