Friday, June 23, 2017

Poem for an Ancient Artist

The most amazing pictographs of the Colorado Plateau are attributed to the Barrier Canyon Culture. These people were hunter-gatherers who lived in the area 1000-7000 years ago. They came before the  Fremont and Anasazi peoples started farming and building stone houses in the area. No one knows the purpose or meaning of their artwork. The following poem is my speculation about their creations.

To the Pictograph Artist of Buckhorn Wash, 
San Rafael Swell, Utah

Perhaps you painted dogs
to delight a restless child,
who then demanded, “Snakes!
Paint Daddy catching snakes!
Now make a sheep!”

But not on this high wall, 
you needed ladders, scaffolding—
cottonwood lengths chopped by stone tools,
bound with hand-spun rope.
and paint—a  mix of minerals 
to stain stone for millennia. 

No idle evening sketching— a tribal project.
So you must have practiced
traced figures with a stick in river sand,
marked the wall into charcoal rough draft
before committing to eternity 
a message long since lost. 

Does this painting claim the canyon for your clan,
sing a  history of heroes,
or, like cathedral carvings,
show symbols of your people's sacred lore?
Are the men your brothers, fathers, gods?

And the women,
with ropes or snakes or rivers
where arms and hair would be,
when they glowed wet
the color of fresh blood,
did all who saw them recognize
goddesses, or witches?

Or were they already alien?
abstract self-portraits,
poems only you 
could understand?


I have more ideas than energy to knit. But I have made one hat with pictograph dogs on it and I am working on a shawl that features what some modern observers call a "rain angel." Hopefully by next week they will both be finished and listed in my shop.

Many pictograph dogs are better fed then these. They may be coyotes.

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