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The Last Carver


First a poem, then how it came to be.

The Last Carver


I cannot give you my name.
Your spirit source is metal.
And you do not cross the sandbar.
You do not swim breathless, in dream.

Mission woman calls me Dr. Pat.
But it is like the sting ray spine
how she says my nation who
is born of deep time, of sea straightness,
of whale hunt, of thousand named
forest rain, of sea stack,
of white wave in storm mount,
how she says we are without God.
So call me what she calls me.
It never touches close.

I am Makah. I am what I make.

You question my art. You want to know.
At night I tell my wife what you ask.
She giggles and I laugh, I think
how simple is the sense you miss.
The fibrous wood I carve with breath
you call by dead word, ritual mask.
My winged faces and body feet,
you say, "What do they mean?" You ask,
"Does placement matter in the face?"
In cedar heart I sleep, I reply.
But you do not seek out that layered bed.
How else can I explain?

So call me Raven. Call me
Storm Bird. Call me Salmon Son.
Call me Ground-Break-of-the-Bear.
Or whatever you want.

I cannot meet your outside way.
And I must dream. I must go beneath
or dry to salt drift on the shore.
The constant sea calls.
The currents I crave.

On the extreme northwest point of the Olympic Peninsula, in WA State, there is a land mass that juts out into the Pacific Ocean called Cape Flattery. It is the extreme most northwest point of the continental U.S. Behind it, to the east, is a harbor. All of the Cape, and a considerable amount of land to the interior, is home to the Makah Indian Nation. The Makah are traditionally a sea faring people, whalers and seal hunters. Their language ties them to the coastal tribes of British Columbia to the north and across the Straights of Juan De Fuca. They are not related to the Nations of WA State whose languages belong to the Salish language group. Physically, they are some of the most handsome people I've ever met. Tall, slender, faces sculpted. As whalers they plied the ocean sometimes out of land sight. Their long boats were carved or sculpted or burned to shape out of old growth Western Redcedar, and they could carry as many as 30 men plus the bladder like bouys needed to keep a harpooned whale from sinking.

I first visited Cape Flattery in 1996. I was then living in Whatcom Co., close to the Canadian border. A year later I moved to the Olympic Peninsula and for five years lived about 70 miles from the Cape.

The Makah Reservation has an extraordinary museum. On permanent display, even, is a long portion of a village, long, lodgepole houses and all, from an excavated coastal village that had been buried in a mudslide in the 19th C., and so preserved. On my first visit to the Reservation there was a temporary exhibit on display. It was of a Makah sculptor who lived at the turn of the last century. I am not sure why I remember his name as Dr. Pat. I've since been corrected by a curator from the museum. But I keep the moniker because of its associations: artist working in ceremonial masks, spiritual healer and, to my mind, a doctor.

The display included many of his masks, photos of him, even a film taken of the Makah in their cedar boats on the ocean. I think some of the photos were taken by the famous photographer Edward Curtis who, in the early 20th C., travelled the west taking photos of Native Americans. I know for a fact Curtis visited the Makah. Why did this artist get to me so? Maybe it was his name. My middle name is Patrick. Maybe that was enough of an entry for him to damn near get inside me.

The day of my first visit followed a night when a huge storm came in off the Pacific. In the Pacific Northwest they are called Southwesterlies, they come in late autumn, and they can attain to hurricane strength winds. I remember crossing Puget Sound that night, from mainland to peninsula, on the last ferry crossing from Whidbey Island to the town of Port Townsend. Ferry captain was a quarter inch short of cancelling the run. The next day I had to make several detours because of the windfall blocking both primary and secondary roads. But I had read up on the Makah and I was determined to get to the Cape. My travelling companion, a city girl, made her displeasure with me clear. So close. I could not turn back short of my destination.

It was immediate and visceral. In the museum, feeling myself surrounded by Dr. Pat, images of him and his art. It was like I had slipped down into deep time. I felt effaced, not stripped bare but stripped down, emptied out, Dr. Pat in my place. I knew that man, his thin body, brown skin, conical hat made of fibrous lengths of cedar strands, and especially that wry, thin smile of his showing bemusement when facing the camera. Finally leaving him I knew I had a poem inside me. Only, I didn't know how to make it. I was equally as determined not to force it. It had to find me. I could not find it.

Six years pass. Late summer of 2001, driving north on coastal Hyway 101 from Aberdeen to Port Angeles. The Olympic Peninsula is still largely a wilderness. So much so the state has built several prisons there, knowing convicts are not likely to try to escape. Few roads, more cougars than roads actually. Approaching Lake Crescent, truly crescent shaped, and deep and 10 or so miles long. From the south you approach the lake and the drive leads down into its valley bowl. Right there, right where the land drops out from under you and the lake comes into view, exactly on that lip Dr. Pat found me again. I had his voice or he had me. Can't say if the difference matters. It needed another 45 minutes to reach my home overlooking the Elwha River. Car stopped in front of the cabin, directly walking to my desk, ignoring my dogs and cat happy to see me back, poem penned to paper in less than 30 minutes.

I'll never know if it is a good poem. A poet never knows if he has succeeded to the straight mark in the distance. Just now, typing to the board, I changed three words. But I do know a forgotten artist whose metier is a dead art came through, had his say again more than half a century after he died. Twice.

Terreson

Last edited by Terreson, Jun/19/2011, 4:48 pm
Jun/19/2011, 4:36 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: The Last Carver


Man, I should not have pulled up that old poem. There, on the Olympic Peninsula, I knew things and so knew myself. Here, in a particle accelerator involving too many people bombarding each other, I forget things and so lose myself. Bloody homesick for the peninsula's cathedral forests.

http://www.northolympic.com/areawebcams/index.php

Tere
Jun/19/2011, 5:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: The Last Carver


Excellent thread, Tere. I've read the poem before but never coupled with the story behind it: Dr. Pat, the shaman, whose spirit reached you, as you reached back, in and out of deep time and the land. Even with the manmade accoutrements dotting the scenes, the power of the land itself comes through on the webcam shots.
Jun/24/2011, 9:23 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: The Last Carver


Thanks, Kat, for marking the thread. I still see the face of Dr. Pat. Shaman for sure. And an artist.

Tere
Jun/25/2011, 1:01 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: The Last Carver


hey Tere,

Finally found the time this deserves. The poem, prose and photos were a trip to another country for me.

I wonder if the poem should follow the prose. I found it a richer read when I returned to it after the story.

Chris
Jun/25/2011, 3:22 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Thanks, Chris. Another country indeed, one I feel exiled from. I get your point about sequential order. Funny little moment of synchronicity for you. The day I made the thread and posted the poem I sent a link to it in a letter to a relative in WA State. Told her I was feeling home sick. It happened she had just, that day, passed by one of my old haunts up in the Chuckanut Mts., which made her think of me. She got it. She especially latched on to the notion of cathedral trees. She got that too.

Tere
Jun/25/2011, 3:53 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Alkiviades Profile
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These two complement each other so well. I've read it about 5 times now, and I know I will have go there again soon.

Aug/2/2011, 7:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Alkiviades   Send PM to Alkiviades Blog
 


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