Page 1

South Dakota Suite

sĂŠamas carraher


Cover Art: stock photo from public domain By National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright Š 2014 sÊamas carraher All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Kind of a Hurricane Press


South Dakota Suite An Introduction for Scooter Ratzsch-Carraher

In August 2000 I travelled to the American Mid-West to meet a friend and to rest from years of banging my head against the wall of people and systems you encounter working as a ‘social-activist’. In the Mid-West, through the generosity of my host (and the two young men living with her) I was fortunate to travel from Vermillion in Eastern South Dakota to the Little Bighorn River in Montana and to do that through the 8th largest of the American Indian Reservations of the country, Pine Ridge, stopping at Wounded Knee Creek where between 150 and 300 Lakota Sioux children, women and men were killed by the US 7th Cavalry on December 29th 1890. I came with the expectations and faith of a pilgrim searching for proof that human suffering could produce its own saviours and that the systems that produced this suffering would produce their own gravediggers, eventually. My experience, though, turned out to be truly different from what I had expected. These days technology has made it easy for ‘Western People’ to travel from one country or continent to another; but our technology has not made it as easy for us to travel from one culture to another; likewise, it is the human dilemma, with or without technology, that even within a single country there are as many borders to cross if we are ever to get to meet each other as a people and, by implication, each-other-as-a-person. I travelled 4,000 miles that August and crossed many borders; the most important one, perhaps, being this ‘personal’ one that shapes the human heart (despite the grim knowledge encountered daily that it is power and people’s wish to dominate that seem to shape human destiny). In crossing this geographical border I realised with gratitude that a country that so many people, in so many less-well-off places, in our mostly-difficult-world, have learnt only to hate, is in fact populated by a people who like us all struggle with the dilemmas between good and bad, joy and pain, life and death, but do so ultimately with a decency of spirit and a fragile willingness that good will triumph. And my memory of the American people became a positive one and one filled with hope and potential for the future of humankind... But the other borders I became aware of: these are the more difficult ones. As we drove through Mission (on the Rosebud Reservation) I passed the Army National Guard and the military base that had been established there due to the difficulties and tensions on-going at that time. I also walked into a local store to buy cigarettes and felt the intense hostility of being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time – which might be a good metaphor for the human heart in our world and our history to date...


With the above in mind, I was moved to write the poems within as my humble attempt, in the simplest language I could find, to express how the most difficult border to cross might be the often impenetrable-one between two people sitting next to each other at the historical-breakfast-table. And how also that dilemma can confront you at a shop-counter in Mission, South Dakota, with its history of brutality that the Native American people have experienced reminding me of my own people in Ireland who likewise suffered much the same at the hands of another ‘Outsider’; and that that border also has its political dimension when I step outside and see the black-booted-militaryuniformed-and heavily-armed soldier, who like soldiers everywhere, tells me with the naive or treacherous belief of the politician: that freedom comes from the barrel of a gun at 100 or a 1000 rounds a minute. These dilemmas I experienced I tried to write about. I see now, if only with difficulty, that the work of crossing borders and traveling on might be a good metaphor for all of us faced with both the wish or the desire (as well as the difficulty) to be human. History moves us all on, for good or for bad. But even within the great timespace-of-history our own small journeys carry us across the two awesome borders of life and death, and the people and their faces that pass us on the way become like questions we fumble to ask or like a language that can never be completely deciphered nor understood... But my hope is: that we will all come to see that the greatest task facing mankind (after physical survival) and the greatest journey we will ever embark on, both personally and collectively, is this one where we set out into mysterious and often terrifying terrain to discover the Human Heart; this seldom-discovered Country-of-Humanity, and how having found it, we can then draw a map so our children’s future will be directed to its realisation, for our own small species, in this dangerous world, on a small rock, in a boundless expanse of silent space: “...Oh, my best, “my very best, comrade” yes!” séamas carraher



Teresa Baburam


1 Wide open spaces stun me. i was born, tight as a knot in a country called hate where words weave wounds and it us war, endlessly, on the hour.


2 There are no words for emptiness. Small birds puncture its skin mercilessly. Here the hand of man is on every field. A cry comes up from the land. In every field a crop, corn or soya. There are no words for a people who have no home.


3 On Elm Street, South Dakota the heat shaves the paintwork from the timber houses, thoughts fall like leaves and settle in the dust. Two squirrels eye me mercilessly, from above. It is Sunday, to the singing of the insects and the greedy mosquitoes. Once i had a soul that sang from its tree in the heart of home. Out here we are all swimming for dry land shipwrecked, like rats, on the Plain.


4 Somehow this must be our longing for a life not yet possible the glory of the sunflower this happiness that beats everyone’s brains into pulp this stormlike silence. Here now in the heart of hell: this song of the Prairie.


5 America! must be a word for something struggling to wake in the heart of nowhere to find yourself driving without direction and these highways stretch endlessly neither inside nor out. Oh, my soul, there is not one road but many! Not one dream here but a million! Marching, marching endlessly now all our longings have become soundlessly, silenced.


6 Leonard Peltier is still in prison. i don’t hear anyone talking of it. It seems to me the silence must be a great prison to us all. Even the Great Plains have no room to contain it. We guard it at 65 miles an hour. It seems to me this whole country is a great prison of happiness to its people. It seems to me only the poor people are dour and distrustful because they carry the secret of America’s happiness like a great burden holding up the ‘free’ world. Leonard Peltier must have committed crimes against this happiness, I think. i think, day after day he must think, “...none of us is getting out of this alive.” i think endlessly in great engines that carry me ruthlessly across the prairie how so much profit can come from murder? i think, surely, it should be past the time when life unfolds like on TV. Later i thought, it would be nice if someone talked about it, weaving my way through the trailer-parks and the children with their arms raised, their mouths open


if suddenly a wind cut through the impenetrable being of the corn! If suddenly the people fell from their perches on the edge of the Plain if somehow the monetary system went bust if the books refused to open any more if the graves opened and all the dead could talk!


7 Listening to my self, between two continents, with no nationality now that is not a lie, it comes to me: “Leonard Peltier in prison� seems like a bitter word.


8 If only somehow a wind cut through the corn! If somehow suddenly this woman at the edge of the windscreen woke, if it was no longer all just night or hunger or fear then, love, maybe i would find myself home the first ‘white’ man to recognise the country of his birth our blood worth more than the price of a dollar and this life without value? A homeland for all in exile!


9 i thought once of having my picture taken on a backroad where the heat and the dust lit all the sunflowers ‘til they were shouting and hoarse there then a deserted house with its windows wideopen like a mouth aching without teeth here now this hymn of praise: once upon a time there wasn’t even a tree here only a wide open space wondering when the silence and murder ended what it would all sound like.


10 Driving away in the old Ford this cloud of dust like death infuriated by the emptiness and unspoken you and i, love together.


11 In Vermillion, South Dakota at 3 in the afternoon (“exactly 3 in the afternoon”) the time stops suddenly. In this room here where two young boys play someone has taken the faces from the clocks. Because it is Sunday because the heat has declared curfew over the streets! Because we have become, truly, a people without a country because all our flags are withering like rags because in a room at the end of the world this woman rests because there can never be a word for emptiness when everybody is full of “things”.


12 What if words don’t mean anything anymore? Dead things on a sign? what if “history has ended” and there are only dead people too? What if no one wakes up, ever and the blood, the stones, the hissing of insects, is futile? Somehow this story fits in among the rest. Somehow, staring at the shopfronts in this country where the moon never rises somehow when i think like this there is only heat and silence then this Indian woman i don’t understand says i should go to “Claw Dog’s Paradise”. i imagine then there is a place where words meet things. What if i don’t find a way to wake myself up?


13 A ‘black’ boy. A ‘white’ boy. How come i’ve ended up in this place? Somehow my self must live in a space in-between that there is, somewhere, a third world where the whispering ceaselessly wakes my hearing after 800 years of it, then explain how come - me “i’m the white man here” ?


14 In this country someone built at the side of the road the people are polite, we pass like ships at night the forgetfulness of the sea swelling in our veins. My friends here are kind. It is like giving birth to sorrow. i live without paying any rent. All the food is shared. A young man each day descends through rooms emptied of furniture where time has stopped. At night i walk past the trailers where even the dogs say “God bless America”. i know i am not even a dot on a map. The air conditioners, the crickets and the insects make more noise. i must be a stranger. A ship passing at sea, an ‘immigrant’ with no tribe. Thousands of miles away the same sun sinks on a famine grave where the dead also lie buried with no names. i see now, we are all deserted at birth. Here there is no mother or father. Each thing must give birth to itself. This universe is a big place for me to unfold.


Somehow we have all been deserted in an empty place where the silence and the stones and the weeds weep piteously. Noiselessly.


15 Once crossing three State lines (in this old car i imagine swift as a horse, sturdy as a buffalo) on the road past Spotted Horse i look in the rearview mirror somewhere always wondering with what’s left at this speechlessness crammed with words like an old suitcase this emptiness beneath the birds this emptiness where the corn and soy plants grow as far as the horizon and you whistling, love “home on the range�.


16 Passing a signpost in the dark i think you must travel far to find this country of your Self maybe a crane will nest by the water in a tree there or a hawk hover one thing for sure you won’t be alone no matter how many lies lie like dead animals on the road so that the world is full of people so poor we don’t even have a thing to say.


17 At nighttime the television talks too much. i don’t find the jokes funny. i don’t need a prescription for migraine or toothache, my teeth ain’t ever going to be white again in this motel room the heat stops at the door peers through the window the world opens its arms to strangers like life, like death! Small animals crouch frozen at our coming. “You can’t smoke here”, the man in the uniform tells me. You can never disturb the frantic breathing of the dead, i think, rearrange the furniture take the rules from the wall you can’t eat hunger nor feed on fear you can’t drown yourself in a factory where the animals are already slaughtered and hung from hooks in your forehead. You can never go home again.


18 With these roads always deserted i could well be in Ballyogan, my own words hang from the walls like decorations my own words are too big for me! i think if only they made everywhere the next state of the Union, if only this cold welcoming was not blind nor of stone and the Statue of Liberty danced if only there was justice! And it dissolved us all in the being-here of our wordlessness after all the jokes when the politicians are hung back in suits and the suits strung neatly in closets when the headaches have all been numbed when my garden begins to grow from the scrap of used cars then we could all come back together to the word, the ‘give me five’ of in the beginning was.


19 No matter where i am i dream of the world to come here there is no property no title deed to gnaw your bones into hunger no house to unhome another with nothing out of place that the wind could destroy. It’s not that i dream too much. It’s more that, even after all this time, i can still somehow feel this ‘thing’ called ‘desire’ so that it’s only that here so far away two thousand miles up this uncharted river of dust and debris someone has put a fence round me someone is cutting my words with wire! My throat is choked with silence everyone speaks in a strange language here in this first reservation town when the car won’t go no more this lump in my throat is holding my life in its hands piteously, like an infant.


20 We sleep, my friend and i beneath all the stars where it is neither day nor night in the land of our lovelessness we sleep wondering where the world might be when we wake up.


21 When i wake up in South Dakota or Nebraska or Wyoming or Montana feel the wheels and the heat and the dust i wonder if i dreamed that in Ireland the children in Mountwood indict me for the pain of being “second class citizens� or if really i am, unutterably, a second class citizen pacing the heartless floor of a cage dreaming i am a ghost walking across the heartland into the badlands of the Midwest. &ow all there is growing from my skeleton is a few stalks of mangy corn! And the birds nest in my brain and nobody speaks anymore and in the distance on a grey hill there is an American flag that nobody knows who put it there nor what it might mean.


22 Thinking like this with no map to make sense nor direction is a bit like forever being dead like never once getting your foot in history’s big mouth this must be the fate of poor people the impenetrable being of our union white or black or aboriginal our thingness, without thought, coming here through these reservation towns i think now, most probably, American, as well.


23 There is always a need for conclusion. Usually, at roughly 3 in the morning death calls to the door dressed at its best, disguised like a disease, it wakes the house from its sleeplessness a loud knock, louder than a cancer, or an accident, a plane falling from the sky in this movie-world lit with neon and casino-signs it’s usually a 45 like this small child who gestures “you wanna piece of me!” Two big black holes and the world falls apart then it’s time for work again! In my dream there are no conclusions there are no maps to this restlessness no signposts between these towns filled with trailers, these empty roads in this dream the only possible conclusion is we haven’t started to live yet there must be more to life than corn or soya or money if we don’t wake up soon it will be too late all the corn or crops or money in the world is not going to save us the poor people


bankrupt even of unnecessary illusion.


24 My head hurts stuck out in the middle of the prairie like this, all these band-aids of TV-stars and prescription drugs, all the dark glasses in the world won’t save me. i sit across from you and i know why i have ended up here watch all this open space inside me unfold, but love, are you there? And in all this empty geography how come someone owns it all? How come in the middle of nowhere there’s a piece of paper sayin’ “mine”? When there’s nothing left someone even owns that as well! Out here, in this place full of ghosts where no-one dances anymore where the dead eat their own gravestones where the land has soaked up all its anguish there’s a voice saying everyone owns a bit of you that’s why, love in the dark just before dawn and when you ask me to marry you there is no answer that’s why there’s a pain in my head two empty holes where i used to have eyes. Then there is a reason why my dreams


are crowded with ghosts screaming “save me, someone” please.


25 Here, it’s like the same person even planted a flag on my corpse! i would have preferred flowers, wild flowers or weeds with their heads bursting with ideas like there was only tomorrow and at night when the stars come out instead of words there’s this orchestra of grasshoppers and crickets in my head and freedom starts to hurt hurt like a deadly wound.


26 It all hurts like a wound, love 40 years to hold your life in your hand to catch it like a small bird to clasp it whistling wet and wondrous then you stop the car because the engine is tired and you are tired and you wake up, here realise someone has planted this emptiness inside you the space between us empty the road is empty the horizon empty how come i’m alive when no one else is! How it grows like a wound then how it hurts like a wound and it’s your life and once it whistled like a small bird once it was wet and wondrous once i held it in the softness of my hand and it was fragile and needed care “tough shit”, you hear a voice say this face staring at my own from the smugness of a dollar bill.


27 Night here shaves your soul to the bone the dark throws open its arms to swallow you then the lights of the casino on Route 50 it’s only a thought before speech, unutterable: what if this light flickers from the fireflies over fields long frozen by the hand of man what if this light singing and dancing as it flees was saying what about us? The me and you of our togetherness? Our priceless and unfolding future!


28 Wounded Knee. All roads lead to this point, a grave on a hill eight tourists from New York taking photographs. i arrive a hundred and ten years too late. i do not know what to do with the Irish girl’s tears i have been entrusted with they wrap round my own but i am old i am tired as a man i have forgotten how to weep only as a child could i have remembered there is too much and too little, to grieve for. At the bottom of the hill an Indian asks five American dollars for directions for five dollars i’d need the way out of here for five dollars i’d need the answer to a couple of questions. He tells me his brother knows many things but i am my own brother and i know little in this world too:


”my brother is my purse. My friend, my means for getting on.” We are poor people we have no brothers, that’s capitalism. Instead i think these old people do not like us and how can i blame them? i am new and shiny and the roots of my life feed on their dead though i am not white nor black just someone lost on the side of a road also it’s hard being without colour, the humanness and less of it hurts.


29 i thought then, to be Irish to be poor and Irish is never to know where your dead lie buried this world has become our graveyard all its people are our brothers we are ghosts and the children of ghosts!


30 At Wounded Knee it must be the dying ends up easy. It’s life that’s difficult. The memory is no longer painful. Only forgetfulness this amnesia where we have forgotten what it is, this life! Here is “the end of history” then. It’s not glory nor greed, to have travelled four thousand miles two thousand of them in heat and dust to sit numbed by the carelessness of history. To win or lose who gives a shit? Still, in a corner of the graveyard at Wounded Knee a small child sleeps a doll, half rabbit, half human, stands sentry there guarding her grave. Oh, there must be a place, a secret place, where the almost endless grief of our losses can find a home. A place where we all might belong.


31 Later this small boy who is larger than my life writes to me “you fill everywhere with joy” he says, “my mom K&OWS that you fill everywhere with love” miles away i crumble like a deluge of extinct birds i crumble and fall heartlessly. i renounce all my allegiances. i have become a citizen of the emptiness a citizen of my own heart. Here, we are all poor, here, and in this time that is always travelling on are my final words to you and the ones you love (and this time not yet born): Oh, my best, “my very best, comrade” yes!


About the Author SÊamas Carraher’s poetry has appeared in a number of print and online journals and anthologies. At the moment he lives in a small house in Ballyogan, south County Dublin, Ireland.


Profile for Séamas Carraher

Séamas Carraher 'South Dakota Suite' ebook file  

A 31 verse, 45 page, poetry chapbook of an Irish man's travels through South Dakota in the year 2000. Published by Kind of a Hurricane Press...

Séamas Carraher 'South Dakota Suite' ebook file  

A 31 verse, 45 page, poetry chapbook of an Irish man's travels through South Dakota in the year 2000. Published by Kind of a Hurricane Press...