Mound and Mountain Laid Low
I woke into world the bastard child of a slaughtering Empire. I woke into world in an old Shawnee town, but I am not Shawnee, and the town is their ghost.
The town, in Shawnee, is called Chalawgatha, which is also the name of the band of Shawnee who lived there. Wherever they settled, they settled in Chalawgatha, because they were the Chalawgatha, and so Chalawgatha was their town.
What is the ghost of their town is a sprawl of mid-western pavement called Chillicothe, Ohio.
Chillicothe sits alongside a dirtied river on the last plainslands before the land roils upward into the ancient soft-green Appalachian mountains. Chalawgatha was a small settlement upon that same river with much smaller, hand-built mounts rising from the earth. Once the Algonquin ancestors of the Shawnee traveled those time-worn mountains and buried their dead beneath raised hills. The hearts of those mountains are coal; the hearts of those mounds are bone.
It’s doubtful the Chalagawtha Shawnee suspected that one day both mount and mound would be laid low.
Homes of Hillfolk Upon Open Graves
Where I woke into the world is a beautiful, haunted place, forested hills whispering ancient truths from caves and streams, wildflower-strewn vales singing fairy-tale beauty into the souls of mortals. It is also a land trashed, paved-over, blown up to get the coal from the heart of the great mountain-spirits, razed to plunder the trees clinging to their face like verdant beards.
Where I woke into this world is sometimes filmed for European documentaries on American poverty, images of shoeless dirt-faced children montaged alongside shoeless dark-skinned children in Los Angeles.
I had shoes; my neighbors did not. Water poured from our tap, my neighbors drew from an arsenic-tainted well. Our sewer overflowed and opened, feeding tree-tall grasses and milkweeds; my neighbours shat in a shed.
We were poor. Others were more poor. The race to the bottom is an abyss mirroring the race to the top, smog-filled skies reflected in sludge filled pools.
The wealthiest can always have more wealth, the poorest can always have less.
Unlike others in those European documentaries, I was never filmed. I did not know my poverty except that I was told of it on television and from my violent and abusive father, who threw crumpled beer cans against a black and white television as Ronald Reagan told us how the Union fared. Then there were the commercials for colas, and shoes, and things we could never afford but others must could, because why would the television tell people to buy things for which they had no money?
When it rained, our clay yard turned slippery, light-brown slicks pooling water into drainage ditches along the rural highway gouged through those winding hills. It was sloppy, and clay is a relentless sort of mud, but I would play for hours. I liked the world best during those rains and just after, the air finally cleansed for a few hours from the moldy garbage-smell of the paper mill along the Scioto river and the rotten sewage smell from our overfilled sewer.
The Chalagawtha Shawnee likely did not worry much over the smell of the paper mill. Nor did they wait like I did for the food trucks from the government, laden with brown paper-board boxes filled with processed cheese, dried milk-powder, and enriched rice. They did not clear space in their clay yards for each autumn’s delivery of blue-black coal for their wood-burning stoves. They did not pass by vales and hollows filled with rusting enameled machine-parts and used plastic diapers. The did not wonder at the strange pains and stranger thoughts entering their head from the nuclear plant just to the south.We moderns, particularly the Pagan sort, are accused of romanticizing the past. I try not to make that mistake, but it’s difficult to imagine the slaughtered and displaced Chalagawtha Shawnee lived lives as miserable, as nasty, as brutish and as short as we’re taught to believe.
At least not until Empire came.
“Indians” like gods
I woke into the world as an ‘American,’ not as a Shawnee, a child of Empire and Capital, descended from displaced peasants from many other lands. From my father ran blood of Alsatians, Swabians, French, Irish and Welsh; from my mother came more French and Welsh and a bit of English.
I was formed from the blood and semen of peoples without title, wealth or trades. Displaced and impoverished people crafted the homunculus of me, mewling in an aluminum trailer. I was born the bastard heir of Colonialism, suckling not at the teat of imperial wealth pumps but upon rags dipped in the vats of government charity.
I knew none of this then. Empire was a thing elsewhere, wealth the currency of cities on the other side of those low mountains.
Slaughter of peoples, when you are a child, is for the story-books and the 3 channel-reception of the small glowing screen: cowboys shooting Indians, Romans burning Heathens and Christians, Hitler marching Jews to ovens. Ancient peoples and their gods were all over-ocean and under far-flung skies, not by the low mound by which I played and napped.
Ancestors from over an ocean settled in untouched forests, unwitting footsoldiers of Imperial reach, pushing the descendents of mound-builders ever westward, as if chased by an unseen, voracious monster from which all peoples knew to flee.
Wars fought between the settlers’ government and the tribal confederacies always ended poorly for the defenders, but what became of these lands cannot be described as glorious or even civil….