PEACE ON THE DIVIDE
—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA
I come to your patient meadow, brown in summer,
boggy with springs this time of year,
and I think of you, Coppa Hembo, last chief of the Hill Nisenan.
I think of you, and of Dr. King,
far-seers moving in your own ways toward the same vision:
Peace, equality, brotherhood, a fair chance to all people.
In this meadow the good earth springs
with clear water to gather in ponds that float lily-pads in summer.
From here the creek flows down-canyon, always aiming—
around rocks, down pediments,
past old abandoned gold mines; by twists, turns and falls—
toward that great water, the sea.
Cedar-bark tepees stand in the meadow, remembrance of your tribe,
and in the grassy center is a great quartz stone inscribed:
Chief Coppa Hembo 1816-98… Leader in Civil Rights
and Humanitarian to All People… .
You lived through the frenzy of our Gold Rush,
miners driving native people from ancestral lands,
the First and Second Indian Wars of El Dorado County.
Sentiments festered against immigrants.
So many nations’ languages gathered in these hills and canyons,
so many colors of spirit and skin.
Chinese and Chilean, Spanish, Mexican, Irish, Cherokee….
miners from the eastern States—abolitionist and pro-slavery—
as our country moved toward Civil War.
Like Dr. King, you saw all men alike, to be treated honestly, fairly,
as neighbors to you and your tribe.
You made peace with them all; made all your friends—
all except the slave traders
who rode across the river to steal your people,
drive them to mercury mines on the coast where they’d die soon,
poisoned by the metal that mates with gold.
What harm one group of humans does to another!
But you saw each man truly. You were made a judge among them.
You built schools to teach all children together,
believing that knowledge makes justice and peace.
Your name means Grizzly Fighter.
You earned it by chance, as a youth, coming upon the bear
you couldn’t escape.
The grizzly almost killed you, you were left for dead.
But you killed the bear
and returned to your village next day
as if a ghost of yourself—
scarred for life, warmed by the skin of the bear.
Did the scars give you voice and vision?
As chief of your tribe, you led your people
in peace and brotherhood, in far-seeing.
I walk the meadow thinking of you
on this day when we honor Dr. King and his far-seeing dream—
the sort of dream you kept in your own words.
That dream flows beside me
down the creek singing on its way to the sea
that gathers all waters in its tides.
Our thanks to Taylor Graham for her fine poem about human rights on this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Tomorrow she will read this poem at the Placerville Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration in Placerville.
And today at 2pm, Taylor will read with Tim Kahl at the Davis Arts Center Poetry Series, 1919 F St. in Davis. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
For more about El Dorado County’s Chief Coppa Hembo, go to cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18920407.2.53&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1/ or to see his biography, A River Divided, at www.amazon.com/River-Divided-Story-Biography-Chief/dp/1477133526/.
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