(for Bill and Lois Winchester)
Sally Carrighar, in a meadow one night, heard what seemed a bird trilling, then saw it was a deer-mouse. My friend Bill Winchester tells me that when deer-mice came into his house from the tallgrass prairie of Oklahoma, he live-trapped and released them in a nearby hedgerow, but they waltzed back in, singing an epithalamium. Add an O and a Muse becomes a Mouse, with poetic license to party on Mount Parnassus and drink from the Muses’ Spring of Helicon. Blake's Sunflower, weary of time, looked for that sweet golden clime where the Traveler's journey is done—but the little Deer-Mice got there before tourists with FOX2P genes did (NY Times 29 May 2009, p.A5: human “language gene” put into mice deepens their baby-cries, so Mezzo Mice may soon be singing).
In this “new” world they sing,
as we come down from the stars,1
like Milton’s Leonora singing
(aut Deus, aut vacui certé mens tertia cøeli),2
they climb up the stems
of sunflowers still not weary
of time, and they trill,
perching and swinging,
in meadow and glade, as if
trout might rise
to May-flies from their
music, as if John Muir and
might come back
alive and listening,
anadromous as salmon or sabretooth
tigers, up time itself into the glistening
moonlit sonatas of
1 In our Osage naming ceremonies it is said that we have come to this world from the stars. The words in one of our dawn-songs say of the Sun: “He returns, he is coming again into the visible world.”
2 Line 5 of John Milton’s Latin poem written in 1637-8 for the Neapolitan singer Leonora Baroni, whom he heard during a visit to Rome. In English, lines 4-8 of that poem, as translated from Latin by Lawrence Revard, say: “…your voice itself sounds God’s presence./ Surely God, or an emptied heaven’s third intelligence,/…glides through your throat,/…and teaches mortal hearts/ to grow accustomed to immortal sound.” See JOHN MILTON, Complete Shorter Poems, ed. Stella Revard (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 199.
3 John Muir tried to save a Sierra vale, Hetch Hetchy, but the dam was built and now the people of San Francisco (St. Francis?) drink, shower, and flush with water drawn from that sanctuary—the moving waters at their priestlike task, perhaps.
Copyright © Carter Revard. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carter Revard, Osage on his father's side, was born in the Osage Agency town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma and grew up on the Osage Reservation there. He attended a one-room school in the Buck Creek rural community, won a radio quiz scholarship to the University of Tulsa, and was given his Osage name in 1952, the year he went to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. After taking his B.A. there, he earned a Ph.D. at Yale and taught medieval literature, linguistics, and American Indian literature at Amherst College, Washington University St. Louis, and elsewhere. He retired in 1997 but continues to write and publish poems and scholarly essays. His books of poetry include Ponca War Dancers (1980), Cowboys and Indians, Christmas Shopping (1992), An Eagle Nation (1993), and How The Songs Come Down (2005). A collection of essays published in 1998, Family Matters, Tribal Affairs, was followed by Winning The Dust Bowl (memoirs and poems) in 2001. Some recent poems, including "Deer Mice Singing Up Parnassus," was first published in AHANI: Poems of the Indigenous Americas, edited by Allison Hedge Coke, The University of Arizona Press.