American Idol

Indian statue

When the whites come to plant tobacco,
first thing they do is fell all the trees
so the Indians won’t have a place
to hide. No surprise, then,
that some snow-bound frontiersman
should see the profile of a former neighbor
starting up out of the firewood.
He reaches for his pocketknife.
By spring, here’s a faithful scout,
dumb as a stump, to stand
at the corner of the trading post.
If the grain’s too pale, a little
tobacco juice rubbed in with a rag
will make an authentic-
looking redskin, spit & shine.

So here I am, two centuries later,
still playing host
to strangers’ fantasies,
flies with sticky feet,
the white moths of morning.
My wooden lungs ache with dry rot,
still waiting for a light.

8 Comments


  1. An excellent pairing of picture & words. I love the laconic voice of the poem, which matches so well the phlegmatism in the face of the effigy.

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  2. You’ve made this mask speak in a voice that feels eerily true.

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  3. Thanks for the comments. The photo was an afterthought, taken shortly before posting; I was actually thinking of some more typical, life-sized cigar store Indians I’ve seen. The carving in the picture is a moth-eaten antique doll residing, for some reason, in a window well in the basement of my parents’ house. (However, the two concluding lines occurred to me only after taking and processing the picture, so maybe there was some influence.)

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  4. Excellent poem, Dave, and the photo adds a great deal. You gave that cigar-store joke – the taciturn Indian – a voice.

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