Silver eyes turned to silt
they lie in the pool
of stagnant water.
Wading in, I cup them
scales whispering light,
a minnow, black-lined,
stiff as a pencil,
two fingerling trout
their sides red as fire.

I might have saved them
had I come sooner,
carried them back
to spring headwaters.
But my good intentions
can lend them no breath.

Leaving them at water's edge
where they will be found
by the raccoons, the flies,
I remember the teaching
that nothing is wasted
when it is left
to touch the earth.


At James Bay, though,
half this continent north,
Cree people eat fish
filled with mercury,
from plants which trade
native lives for power.
And only a dozen
miles downstream from here,
the Hudson River's bed is dark
with chemicals whose names
spell out our death.

I pray
that when my time comes
to give up breath
may my own flesh
carry little
of civilization,
let it find
new life in death.


 *Matsinak Namasak: "Dead Fish"



through the woods
on an autumn morning
I come to the circle
where we had our last fire
where twigs and logs
gave up their shape
to return the heat of sun
to the air.

lift a handful of ashes,
swedaibegwi, fire sand, as we call it,
new earth formed by fire,
gray as sky before dawn.
As it sifts through my fingers,
a small wind takes it
and it dances that same
flowing dance
which the young trees know
with their supple branches,
a dance which always ends
with the earth.

The fire sand falls
between my fingers,
eager to return to the soil,
to join once more
the roots of trees,
to lift once again
and reach up for the sun.




First dig the hole
where it will go
wide enough for roots,
deep enough for growth.

Fill the hole with water,
let it seep into sides,
earth drinking her fill
to share with a new guest.

Trench around the tree
to be transplanted,
a circle wide
as the spread of its branches.

Remember that evergreens
always root shallow
while hardwoods drive taproots
down close to their height.

Wrap a sack, tied
to keep the ball of spoil intact
holding roots hairs finer
than mist unbroken.
Do all this near the time
of first or last frost,
just when earth is waking
or drifting towards rest.

When you transplant trees
you renew an old trust,
making room for new branches
to shade us with peace.



Climbing, it seems
each time you reach
what you thought was the top,
there’s more above.

“Deye mon, ge mon,”
beyond mountains, more mountains
they say in Haiti where many peaks rise
above red, ruined land and the forests are gone,
cut for cooking fires and tourist carvings.

It is said in India that seeking God
is like climbing a mountain.
Each false summit shows
a greater height to come.

In one of our oldest Abenaki stories
Gluskonba was the one
who scaled Ktchi Wadjo
to bind the wings
of the great Wind Eagle,
then rued his foolish deed.

So how does your tale
of climbing end?
Frozen forever like
the luckless on Everest
or Hemingway’s leopard
on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Or if you do manage
to come back down,
what gift do you bring,
what hunger may greet you,
and to which side
will you return?



The strongest glue, my grandfather said
was always made of horn and bone,
deerskin scraps ground down
then boiled thick and brown
as the sheen of a beetle’s back.

Salvaged from the sacrifice of life
our four-legged relatives always gave,
that kind of glue held things together.

That was just how we did back in the day,
using everything the new people throw away.


and I measure the day
by the span of my hands

I do not understand
minutes, hours, or time
except in the movement of light

Sun shares its warmth
but I cannot keep it,
cannot truly own anything
outside my skin

I do not understand
budgets, deficits,
dollars, defense, deterence

Sun goes down behind hills
and the night reminds me
that darkness brings stories,
that rest is right.

I do not understand
the endless, frantic dance
of lighted screens

I understand sleep
I understand dreams.


Copyright (C) 2003, 2014 by Joseph Bruchac. All rights, including electronic are reserved by the author.

Used by permission of the author.

6 Eco-poems by

Joseph Bruchac of the Abenaki Nation

Joseph Bruchac is a writer and beloved, traditional storyteller from the Adirondack Region of northern New York where he lives in the house that he was raised in by his grandparents. Founder and Executive Director of the Greenfield Review Literary Center and The Greenfield Review Press, much of his own writing draws on his Abenaki Indian ancestry. He and his two grown sons, James and Jesse, who are also storytellers and writers, work together in projects involving the preservation of Native culture, Native language renewal, teaching traditional Native skills and environmental education. Author of over 120 books in several genres for young readers and adults, his experiences include running a college program in a maximum security prison and teaching in West Africa. These first three poems come from his 2003 book, Ndakinna: Our Land: New and Selected Poems, [West End Press, Albuquerque, NM.] Those that follow are new poems we are privileged to have on Eco-Poetry, for everything Joseph Bruchac writes is an ecological poem of his native peoples who knew the ways of Earth and how to respect her bounty before the word ecology was born. Joe recently appeared in a Festival of Native American Poetry that he helped to organize at Poets House, New York where the editor of Eco-Poetry was pleased to see him again, having known him for many years as an Abenaki poet who strives to preserve the wisdom of his people and their land.