Boys and girls were locked in remote cabins for weeks
And given only toxic plants and rancid meat to eat
A surefire way to identify the weak
Those who crawled out – if half-crazed, still alive –
Could most anything survive
Except guns and small pox and the white man’s and white woman’s hunger for all the land.
And now the mills have been converted into art galleries
Which come with divers’ scallops and coconut curries
And you can talk with people who like you are angry
About all that’s going on in Washington.
And no one’s heard of the young people being locked up in cages
(Or could you mean the millions of young black men in prison?)
And no one’s heard of the Yamasee War in which the Sissipahaw exited history’s pages
And the colonists might have too
If the Cherokee had not sided with them against the Creek
Who they thought were worse than, say, you.
And the New New South owes more to shoats
And certainly more to shoats than to goats or old poets,
Who, as Shelley himself did not quite lament,
But mirror the gigantic shadows futility casts upon the present.
At least we have retained in our heads
Those four words Elvis’s mother once said:
“Only the strong survive,
Only the strong survive.”
— Poem, notes and drawings by William Eaton. Drawing of person with toes in an oval was inspired by a model taking a break from modeling and by the work of the Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral. Drawing with bars, grasses and water is from the courtyard of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, looking over the Palisades toward the Pacific.
∩ Elvis Presley, Only The Strong Survive. The scallops and curry: Saxapahaw, N.C., Middle of Somewhere, Becomes a Draw, by Ingrid K. Williams, The New York Times, January 20, 2012. From Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry I adapted or deformed a phrase from the penultimate sentence of the essay, which reads “Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves.”
The Yamassee War (1715–1717) was a conflict between British settlers of colonial South Carolina and various Native American tribes, including the Yamasee, Cherokee, Catawba, and many others. Among these others: the little-remembered Sissipahaw, who lived along the Haw River in the area which now includes the “census-designated place and unincorporated area” and former cotton mill town Saxapahaw (North Carolina). During the war, the colonists abandoned their settlements and retreated to Charles Town, where starvation set in as supplies ran low. The tide turned in early 1716 when the Cherokee sided with the colonists against the Creek, their traditional enemy. The Yamasee War is considered one of the American Indians’ most serious challenges to European dominance.
The Sissipahaw are now forgotten except, slightly, for their practice of “husquenawing.” As described by John Lawson in The History of Carolina (1714):
. . . most commonly once a year, at farthest once in two years, these people take up so many of their young men as they think are able to undergo it, and husquenaugh them, which is to make them obedient and respective to their superiors, and, as they say, is the same to them as it is to us to send our children to school, to be taught good breeding and letters. This house of correction is a large, strong cabin, . . . made on purpose for the reception of the young men and boys . . . [T]hey husquenaugh their youth, which is by bringing them into this house and [keeping] them dark all the time, where they more than half starve them. Besides, they give them pellitory bark, and several intoxicating plants, that make them go raving mad as ever were any people in the world; and you may hear them make the most dismal and hellish cries and howlings that ever human creatures expressed; all which continues about five or six weeks, and the little meat they eat is the nastiest, loathsome stuff, and mixed with all manner of filth it is possible to get. After the time is expired, they are brought out of the cabin, . . . Now when they first come out, they are as poor as ever any creatures were; for you must know several die under this diabolical purgation. Moreover, they either really are, or pretend to be dumb, and do not speak for several days, I think twenty or thirty, and look so ghastly, and are so changed, that it is next to an impossibility to know them again, although you were never so well acquainted with them before. . . . They play this prank with girls as well as boys, . . . Now the savages say if it were not for this, they could never keep their youth in subjection, besides that it hardens them ever after to the fatigues of war, hunting, and all manner of hardship, which their way of living exposes them to. Beside, they add, that it carries off those infirm, weak bodies, that would have been only a burden and disgrace to their nation, and saves the victuals and clothing for better people, that would have been expended on such useless creatures.
Now available from Amazon: Art, Sex, Politics
& now featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard
A new, provocative collection of essays. William Eaton, the author of Surviving the Twenty-First Century, shares the pleasures of questions, tastes, reading and more visual arts. “That we are animals, that is as sure as ever. How savagely we behave! And how affectionately rub up against one another. How, desperately, make love?”
Five-star review: “ . . . remarkable collection of essays. . . . insights which carry the reader into a world of mindfulness. One of the pleasures of reading a book by Mr. Eaton is to witness the author peeling away the layers of his stories. His essay concerning “savoring,” for example, first touches on food habits, yet is in fact a call to live with intention; to savor life as one would savor a meal. . . . lovely prose . . . delightful book.”
Kind words about Surviving: “Entertaining, yet packs a quiet intellectual wallop. . . . so thought-provoking and poetic I didn’t want it to end . . . beautiful and wise and moving . . . engaged, non-doctrinaire, well-read, independent-minded. . . . William Eaton finds arresting themes in unusual places. . . . The writing is masterful and wonderfully absorbing.”