A Declaration, Not of Independence

By Ralph Salisbury b. 1924 Ralph Salisbury

for my mother and father

Apparently I’m Mom’s immaculately-conceived
Irish-American son, because,
Social-Security time come,
my Cherokee dad could not prove he’d been born.

He could pay taxes, though,
financing troops, who’d conquered our land,
and could go to jail,
the time he had to shoot or die,
by a Caucasian attacker’s knife.

Eluding recreational killers’ calendar’s
enforcers, while hunting my family’s food,
I thought what the hunted think,
so that I ate, not only meat
but the days of wild animals fed by the days
of seeds, themselves eating earth’s
aeons of lives, fed by the sun,
rising and falling, as quail,
hurtling through sky,

fell, from gun-powder, come—
as the First Americans came—
from Asia.

Explosions in cannon,
I have an English name,
a German-Chilean-American wife
and could live a white life,
but, with this hand,
with which I write, I dug,
my sixteenth summer, a winter’s supply of yams out
of hard, battlefield clay,
dug for my father’s mother, who—
abandoned by her husband—raised,
alone, a mixed-blood family
and raised—her tongue spading air—
ancestors, a winter’s supply or more.

Ralph Salisbury, “A Declaration, Not of Independence” from Rainbows of Stone. Copyright © 2000 by Ralph Salisbury. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: Rainbows of Stone (University of Arizona Press, 2000)

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Poet Ralph Salisbury b. 1924

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Crime & Punishment

 Ralph  Salisbury

Biography

Of Cherokee and Irish American heritage, Ralph Salisbury was born in rural Arlington, Iowa. At the age of 17 he joined the U.S. Air Force and served in World War II, and it was during his time in the military that he began reading and writing poetry. He attended the North Iowa Teachers College on the GI Bill and later transferred to the University of Iowa, where he studied under Robert Lowell and earned an MFA in 1951. . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Crime & Punishment

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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