The Six Grandfathers
Under the sky, bright with the crown of sunrise, the land sits dark, waiting.
Alone, the night still around me, I stand in the Dakota park, watching.
At first light, I see a land and sky newly made, washed clean by the night’s hard rain.
From afar, four colossi gaze, their dawn mountain serene above the plains.
Hidden from my eyes, guarding the native land and sky, two other faces reside.
On the mountain, with the four, the Warrior and the Healer-who-sees still preside.
The faces of the four, my eyes do plain receive.
On the inner eye, the two of the spirit fall.
I gaze at them, all these times, alone in this common hall,
yet to my mind, do their words and deeds conceive?
Here is what I lack, pray tell me how? How to know these six?
They answer me quick, an easy fix. Turn around the scene.
A gift from the sculptor, an offering from his workshop, the visage whole, he sees.
The ancient humors show themselves, in proper measure handsome –
the sanguine, the melancholic –
the ready hope and slow anger, leavened by patient earn’ed wisdom.
How to see what he sees?
Turn around the scene.
I follow his gaze, as he surveys the far countryside of time.
I follow his eyes, wonder at their demand,
do the people and this land
still earn the temper of this man?
With authoring words he wrote, not with his own, but the creator’s pen.
His words still ring true through the world, self-evident,
for all who would gather in the light of the new day.
But his life left many in chains, left a bell still ringing in the American night,
a bell of warning, of time lost, of pain,
of old scars from the lash, of shackles that remain.
My eyes travel with his, with history our guide.
On our own corps of discovery from above,
I fly with the author across the great divide.
On my return, I see anew the same land he loved.
Our history near, I hear his words echo in me.
Standing here, I am left wiser but less happy.
Lincoln guided a nation through the wilderness of war,
I follow his eyes to the south, to freedom and justice for all, to a new country.
The United States.
He told us why we fought, and what was right.
Although his sepulcher journey passed into the night,
we have the hope of this man, his still living words, eloquent.
His eyes look to us
to complete, to dedicate, to consecrate, to hallow
what his words inaugurated.
His eyes look past me, still brooding over this land.
His big stick diplomacy had its day,
but here is what stayed:
He opposed the narrow few, spoke for the common man,
and a gift that was new –
He bound us to a vision of the common land,
to protect our true nature
from our own careless hand.
[compass to the Land, compass to the Sky]
For those of us who came before, may the journey be told –
For those of us who hunted on plains and woods to the east –
For those of us who lived here a thousand summers, ten-fold –
For those of us who crossed the western bridge, before it returned to the seas –
their spirit winters in these hills and pines.
Do they long to tell us of tribes, our kin, alive, not past?
Do they long to tell us our story, our country, recast?
I stand in darkness at sunrise, I stand here, held fast.
Do they see one land, one history, one people, at last?
[The Six Grandfathers]
I stand on their mountain, I look from their summit.
I gaze to the compass points of spirit and granite.
To the north and south, to the east and west, to the earth and sky,
How to know these six?
At today’s first light, the six grandfathers reply –
Turn around the scene.
Their eyes measure and judge, in hope,
in righteous anger, in compassion and justice, in sorrow and healing,
showing what was earned, what was borrowed, what was taken,
and what has been given.
From where I stand, they show me where to look.
Our grandfathers guide us, there are four in books,
On this mountain, I see more than four grandfathers; more directions are fixed.
For our people, in our common land, in our story today, we have six.
January 2018 North Andover, Mass.
"The Six Grandfathers" is the Lakota Sioux name for the mountain known today as Mount Rushmore. As "The Six Grandfathers", the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Black Elk Peak. Following a series of military campaigns from 1876 to 1878, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is still disputed on the basis of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Among American settlers, the peak was known variously as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs. It was named Mount Rushmore in 1885 during a prospecting expedition by Charles Rushmore, David Swanzey (husband of Carrie Ingalls, who was sister of author Laura Ingalls Wilder), and Bill Challis. (from Wikipedia).
For an account of the ongoing story of Mount Rushmore, read about Gerard Baker, a Native American, who was appointed as superintendent of Mount Rushmore by the National Park Service in 2004. Baker worked to bring the Indian perspective to the interpretive program at Mount Rushmore. The material at this link was researched as part of the Ken Burns special on the National Parks.