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CONFLUENCE

To dominate the conflux of the rivers,

the Minnesota with the Mississipi,

a place inhabited for ten thousand years,

Bdote in the local language,

Fort Snelling was built on the bluff above.

The confluence of the rivers was sacred

to the Dakota Sioux, who believed

that their first ancestors had come as spirits

from the stars, and had been made human

from the clay along the riverbanks,

with life breathed into them like a newborn’s cry.

 

***

 

As the West became more settled slaves

were brought to the fort to be bought and sold.

While the Civil War moved from battlefield

to battlefield in the East and the South,

the Dakota, literally starved

of what was theirs by treaty, rose.

On the day after Christmas, and seven days

before Lincoln issued the final

Emancipation Proclamation,

thirty eight Dakota men were hanged

simultaneously, their execution

having been approved by the President –

presumably pour encourager

the remaining two hundred and sixty two

and the families still incarcerated

in the concentration camp at Fort Snelling,

now a National Historic Landmark

in the city of Minneapolis.

 

***

 

A regiment of ‘Buffalo’ soldiers

was stationed at the fort. It comprised

white officers, black troopers and NCOs,

and thus nicknamed by First Nation people

either because the soldiers resisted

bravely like the buffalo or they too

were being used. They saw no action.

The Dakota Sioux had been subdued.

The ‘Indian Wars’, that centuries old

genocide, were continued elsewhere –

and Minneapolis grew brick buildings,

straight paved roads, gas light and water mains.

 

***

 

John Berryman, poet, impassioned teacher,

university professor, a troubled

and a troubling soul, jumped to his death

from the Washington Avenue Bridge,

Minneapolis, onto the west bank

of the Mississipi. In some poems

he has a black-face minstrel persona:

‘I don know, Mr Bones. You asks too much…’

 

***

 

Outside Cup Foods Hot & Cold Deli,

on the roadway, at the intersection of

East 38th and Chicago Avenue,

in the early evening of May 30th,

2020, George Floyd stopped breathing, murdered

by a white man dressed up in a uniform.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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