Four Found Poems

Reckoning 1

James Treat

These found poems are drawn from interviews with elderly citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation recorded in 1937-38 as part of the Indian-Pioneer History Project sponsored by the federal Works Progress Administration and archived at the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma.

 

Older and Very Sour

1

 

the creek indians had

many different delicious dishes

made from corn one of which is

osafke

 

it is not intoxicating

as some white people believe

 

very few know how to make osafke

the old indian women are

especially learned in making it

it must be made right

or it will not taste good

 

vce cvlvtwe is the indian name

of the corn from which

osafke or safke is made

the corn is used when it

has dried after it has ripened

it is shelled by hand

 

the corn is put in the

mortar keco while wet

then the

pounder kecvpe is taken up

by hand about the middle and

the pounding begins

 

2

 

the corn is then placed in a woven

birch skin basket with small spaced holes

which separates the flakes and dust

from the corn

the corn grits are then emptied into

a kettle of hot water

when the water reaches the boiling point

one half cup of a lye solution is added

to taste and soften the safke it is then

boiled from three to four hours

 

safke is placed in an earthen jar and

kept about four or five days until it sours

 

safke is used as a drink and as a food

the indians raised white corn

which they called safke corn

when the corn matures it is

about twelve to fourteen inches long

 

3

 

safke corn is a flint corn hard

and smooth

 

the proportions are

three buckets of water in washpot

one gallon of grits

and one cup of lye

 

most people dont like it when

it gets sour i think its better

when its two or three days old

 

4

 

i liked safke when it was

first made and sweet

and i liked it when it was

older and very sour

nobody will like the

sour safke when he first

tastes it you have to

get used to it

 

5

 

i have heard a story about an old woman and how she

made the first safke a drink which is a great

favorite of the indians

 

there was once a young man who lived with his old

grandmother the young man would often go off into

the woods on hunting trips and be gone all day

 

every time he left he came home to find that the

grandmother had prepared the safke the young man

began to ponder over this because there was no corn

around the place

 

he finally decided to stay near the place and find

out what the old grandmother did

 

 

the old grandmother said since you have found out

the secret now you take me to the old corn crib and

lock me up in it close all the openings and

cracks after four days you look in and look at

what there is

 

that is why some people say that the corn is an old

woman and it was best not to provoke it

 

all old ladies are easily provoked and are cranky

 

if you do not care for the corn you will lose it

 

 

Jefferson Berryhill, b. 1909

Sarah Fife, b. 1861

Martha Scott Tiger, b. 1890

William Baker, b. 1868

Robert Thompson, b. 1888

 

 

The Power of Medicine

the indians have always had faith

and been the strongest believers in

the power of medicine men and their

powers when using the medicine for

personal or tribal protection in

illness

 

it was the older leaders and

medicine men who were noted and

gifted for their power of preparing

the strong and effective medicine

that would enable any of the indians

to escape any harm

 

any group of indians out hunting or

on travels were never without their

tribal medicine man it was the

medicine man who knew of the best

ways of saving his people and he was

much respected by his people

 

the white meal hompetv hvtkē was the source and

basis of the secret power

the white meal consisted of special foods taken by

the prophets

medicine men

and other leaders

it was made up of mostly corn the pounded corn

meal made into bread pounded corn prepared as a drink

of which the indians are very fond and one or two

articles of food

all this had no seasoning

 

the greatest enemy to the indians was in the use of

salt

fat

flour

sugar

or anything else sweet

 

although the indians had never used these things

they began to realize how very necessary they

were to them and how the added flavor made

many of their meals very delicious

 

the power of medicine

was not so effective

from that time on

 

 

Wilburn Hill, b. ca. 1909

 

 

Lives of the Fish

first of all

the fish killing is a bit out of the picture

for the indians of today due to the fact that

the occasion has been outlawed by the white men

 

during the days of fish killing

the streams were full of

various kinds and sizes of fishes

and the indian killed only

that which he needed

 

the thing that figures mostly in

the indian fish killing is a weed

called the devils shoestring

the root of this weed is

very bitter

it is this nature of the weed

that causes the fish to rise

to the surface of the water

 

digging the strings is about the

hardest part of the whole affair

it takes brain and muscle

to be able to get your quota

 

if it is a flowing stream then

the medicine is scattered into

the water in one place

if the kill should be in

water that is stationary then

the medicine must be scattered or

applied all over

 

before any of the participants

or anyone in the group

looked into the chosen water

a ceremonial was in order

the one with the power of

medicine paints a color on

the cheeks of everybody

 

it was a splendid reputation

to be called a good shot with

the bow and arrows

it was an honor to kill the

biggest fish during the occasion

it took skill to be able to

look for and find an arrow that

has been lost in the water

one must know how to shoot

the fish

 

thus ends the story of fish killing

the longing in the hearts of the old indians

who watch the modern day oil wells and salt water

become a menace to the lives of the fish

continue to ache

and they wish to know just why

an honest mans hunt for the fish for his use

to strengthen his body that he may live longer

is more detrimental than to kill a fish without

thinking at all

indian killed that which he needed

oil men kill because they must have heaven

on earth with the money that he accumulates

 

 

Jefferson Berryhill, b. 1909

 

 

The Deep Fork Bottoms

it might have been back along in

eighteen eighty and up around in

the eighteen nineties

that there was a great demand for

walnut and pecan wood

i think it was some foreign

country germany it was that

was buying great quantities of

this wood to manufacture it into

gun stocks

 

many walnut and pecan trees were

cut down in the deep fork bottoms

as there were more of that kind of

trees there than anywhere else

the trees were sawed down and

cut up first and the stump was

later uprooted and trimmed off

because it was said that the stump

part made the best kind of gun

stock

then it was loaded and hauled

to eufaula where it shipped off on

the katy railroad

 

i think that the timber that was

shipped to the foreign country

was received back in bullets

during the world war

 

 

Toney Carolina, b. 1875

Read an interview with James Treat here.

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Author: James Treat

James Treat is the author of Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era and the editor of several volumes of native literature. His essays and poems have appeared in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Quarterly, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Fourth Genre, Indian Country Today, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Muscogee Nation News, Native Americas, Orion, Studies in American Indian Literature, Tribal College Journal, Verbatim Found Poetry, and many other publications. Treat is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. More information about his work is available at https://jamestreat.wordpress.com

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