First Place | Poetry Writing Contest XLVII | 2019

NEW MILLENNIUM AWARD FOR POETRY

Dale Cottingham ​of ​Edmond, Oklahoma for "The Lamentation of Rev. Daniel Butrick"

Cottingham will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication both online and in print.

This is the author’s first literary/writing award.

The Lamentation of
Rev. Daniel Butrick

(Cherokee Removal, 1839)

By Dale Cottingham

 

Shall I speak, at the end of the weeping road,
at the brink of further woe,
my mourning running deeper than marrow—
I who am not of you, but melded with you
in company, over these rutted miles. . .

That we rose in cold rain, viscous fog
cloaking our sight, yet hearing
tins clanking from somewhere near, 
like hungry souls scraping together 
what remains for another trying day. . .

Taking the uneven, rough-hewn trail,
down to a swollen creek, then trudging
uphill, wagons jolting, lurching, swaying,
our nation benumbed by sodden bed coverings,
thin clothes, traversing alien lands. . .

Our road an indictment, hung like a noose
around these United States, indelibly stained
with Cherokee blood, with land taken
from the Cherokee Nation, in service of greed, of jealously,
leaving decent people scattered, dispossessed.

These United States have built this road from stones
of inequity, and the limping gait of the lamed,
the widow’s wails I cannot stop hearing,
each sleeping or waking moment,
whispering of my complicity.

 

The words I spoke in your tents or at vespers,
ring hollow to me, as I remember
those we buried under roadside trees. 
If only the dead would come back singing,
answering our prayers. Let them come to us,

raising voices among our remnant, our strength
diminished, our ways trespassed upon.
In this sparse, treeless plain,
let them hear our cries and supplication,
and look for us among them. Make new

our down-trodden names—
we will follow them,
give utterance to our longing.
They, having seen through the glass darkly,
make straight our way.

But at the end
of this weeping road,
no one comes, no one
meets us on this shadeless plain,
in the wailing day.

No caress waits for me or the nation,
no one soothes my psychic wound,
the rutted road corrupting my sleep,
making food tasteless, my dreams
ghosted by your last campfire’s breath,

by dawn’s weary progress, by shafts
of sunlight exposing me in ditches,
oblivious to shouts of welcome
or recrimination, my prayers not in earnest,
mouthing hymns I do not sing.

 

Over the treeless hills,
I see everywhere the ghosts of souls,
and there is such aching in my breast,
I call to the dead from under my covers—
my voice pursues them,

back to the Tennessee we shared,
running among the dew berries,
along creeks they named,
made holy with their prayers,
with burial mounds of honored ancestors,

laid to rest in a land no longer theirs,
taken, not by soldiers who ousted the people,
but by whites who took the land as their own,
for no other purpose
than greed.

And the ones I do not see,
the young mother dying
on her grime-stained pallet, dear brothers
and sisters in Christ, left in shallow graves,
all of the thousands I do not see,

men, women, boys, girls, the raped
and kicked, herded to camps,
those who did not survive, the many I know
by heart, faces I see, voices I hear, bodies I bear
with me forever, past the end of this weeping road.

Everywhere I turn
in these shortgrass hills, I hear
hollow wind, the wailing of ghosts,
sounds of decamping, unloading,
sifting through what’s left.

 

If I feel the land’s rise and fall in my marrow,
if I run like a hare from ditch to cleft,
it’s only because my soul
searches for meaning
as my sight dissolves.

The road’s iniquitous work
burns within me, my crucible,
as I stand on the crest,
calling from the flames for salvation.
We who came through,

are changed beyond any recognition—
so, how can prayer be right,
for a mind shattered like an eggshell,
emptied of potential, and ground
to powder by the rutted road?

What prayer would
fill the meanest tin
from which to drink
from this meager stream?
At the valley’s nadir,

a lone tree stands,
like a broken skeleton,
its branches
reaching futilely
between earth and heaven.

 

The sun tries to warm me,
with its shining, blinding my eyes
with its ardor,
sent direct from the wrath of God.
I, who am not of you,

but have traveled with you,
suffered with you—
more sheep than shepherd, bringing
a message of humility to my country,
marked by this road’s atrocity and woe,

by these grieving people whose lands
and belongings were so wrongly taken, 
while I witnessed their equal humanity—
I who have seen these things, perhaps
for no other reason than to write these words,

so that those who come next year
or the following year,
or in a hundred years,
may read what these United States
have done—and grieve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dale Cottingham has published many poems and reviews of poetry collections. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.

This is the author’s first literary/writing award.

The Lamentation of Rev. Daniel Butrick © 2018 Dale Cottingham
• • • Thanks for Reading • • •
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11 thoughts on “”

  1. Mimi Jennings

    Congratulations, Dale for evoking the misery and horror of this not-incidental incident. A beautiful voice that doesn’t try to appropriate the natives’ story but which nevertheless brings reality into the present authentically and movingly.

  2. Congratulations , Dale , on winning this prestigious award. The emotional awareness captured in your poem allows us to experience humankind’s predatory instincts and capacity to justify actions taken out of greed and lust for dominance . Bravo.

  3. I’m glad I’m on this mailing list, in line to receive this fine poem, full of pain and compassion. Congratulations to Dale Cottingham. I too grew up in the South. Until I left St. Clair County for the state university I had never met an Indian, a Catholic, a Jew, a foreigner of any kind. What a rich, varied, colorful and interesting world we live in now!
    –Martha Moffett

  4. CALTON M. LEWIS, M.D.

    Outstanding! Tells well the story of probably the most peaceful Indian people. Ranks right up there with the book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”.

    I would like to send your outfit a poem I wrote about the Shoshones of Nevada. How do I start?

    Calton M. Lewis, M.D. PFC USMC 1948 TO ETERNITY

    [THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED]

    1. Hi Calton,

      Thank you for the comment and the kind words. We welcome your poem and invite you to submit to the 49th New Millennium Writing Awards via our submissions page (HERE). We look forward to reading your work!

      Please let us know if we can be of further assistance. Cheers!

Comments are closed.

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