Skip to main content

Poems by Suzan Shown Harjo: jumping through the hoops of history and Macacalypto

I wrote this poem in 1990, as we were starting The 1992 Alliance, a national coalition that promoted Native Peoples and histories during the build-up to the Columbus Quincentenary. As ships were being launched, again, and discovery celebrations were being planned for 1992 500-years anniversary, we were making sure that there would be commemorations of the more than 500 Native Nations that did not survive, as well as a celebration of those that did, and that we rocked some boats and declared some places as Columbus-free zones. The U.S. Census was revealing a tragically high Native American suicide rate, again, and I wanted to write something for our kids that would give some way of summing up things that had been done to us that were not our fault, were not their fault. It was my primal scream to tell our kids to put the blame where it belonged and not take it out on themselves, and I dedicated it to Sheridan, who spawned, "The only good Indian's a dead one," and to some of his buddies and progeny who symbolized that message. The poem was printed all over Indian country and hundreds of people were reading it at their Columbus-didn't-discover-me events, fulfilling my goal of writing a peoples' poem. Here's another more recent one for this or any occasion.




jumping through the hoops of history

(for columbus, custer, sheridan, wayne and all such heroes of yesteryear)

10 little, 9 little, 8 little Indians

7 little, sick little, live baby Indians

poor little, me little, you little Indians

the only good Indian’s a dead 1

a lot of young Indians got dead in the ‘80s

just like the ‘70s and the ‘60s

both 19 and 18 hundreds

and all the other 00s since 1492

a sucker’s #s game over the sale of the centuries

with 99-year leases and 1-cent treaties

with disappearing ink on the bottom line

signed by gilt-eyed oddsmakers

whose smart $ bet on 0 redskins by half-time

in the 4th quarter, when this century turned on us

we were down to 250k in the u.s.

from the 50m who were here

but who just didn’t hear about

the lost italian lurching his way from spain

with scurvy-covered sailors and yellow-fevered priests

at least 1,000 points of blight and plague

in 3 wooden boxes marked “india or bust

and “in gold we trust

columbus washed up on our shores, praising paradise on earth

and kinder, gentler people

who fixed them dinner, but laughed so hard

at these metal-headed, tiny whitemen

that they fell to their knees

we please them, dear diary, columbus wrote home

they think we’re gods

so the knights of the lost boats

spread syphilis and The word of the 1 true gods

and planted 00s of flags of the 1 true kings

and sang their sacred 3-g song

a, b, c, d, g, g, g

glory, god and gold, gold, gold

rub-a-dub-dub, a nina tub

rub-a-dub-dub, a pinta tub

rub-a-grub-grub, Native gold and lands

rub-a-chop-chop, Native ears and hands

rub-a-rub-rub Indians out

8m by 1500, or thereabout

meanwhile, back in the land of wicked queens and fairy tales

serfs were sowing and owing the churches

and paying dues to the papal store

all for the promise of the kingdom of heaven

starving and dying to make it to that pearly door

the inquisition kings reaped peasant blood$, but wanted more

than those in robes could rob from the poor

so the captains of invention

designed the missions to go forth and mine

with tools of destruction to kill the time

so cristobal colon led the chorus in the same old song

kyrie, kyrie, kyrie eleison

a new world beat for average savages

who didn’t change their tune

and were bound by chains of office

and staked out to pave the yellow brick road

at invasion’s high noon

and wizards in satin read their rights in latin

kyrie, kyrie, kyrie requiremento

and a lot of Indians got dead

as was, by god, their right

to the sound of death songs in the night

kyrie, kyrie, kyrie requiremento

and amerigo begat the beautiful

and the bibles grew and the bullets flew

and the pilgrims gave thanks

and carved up turkeys and other peoples’ lands

and mrs. Gov. stuyvesant bowled with 10 bloody skulls

and begat up against the wall streets

and shopping mauls on 00s of mounds

and the 7th cavalry prayed and passed the ammunition

and loaded gattling guns 100k times

and shot off extra special 45/70s

for any Indians or buffalo

between europe and manifest destiny

meanwhile, in Indian country

no one heard about the ironhorse or goldwhores

or the maggots in the black hills

with no-trespassing signs

or what’s yours is homestake mine’s

but that’s what they called ballin’ the jack

then it was 2 late, about a quarter to midnight

and us without a second hand to tell the times were a changin’

so, we jumped through the hoops of history

on mile-high tightropes without a net

with no time to look back or back out

with no time to show off or cry out

look, ma, no hands

no hands

no hands

and the calendar was kept by #s of sand creeks

and washitas and wounded knees and acoma mesas

and 00s of army blankets of wool and smallpox

and a lot of chiefs who made their marks

no longer able to thumb their way home

where x marked the spots on their babies

and pocahantas haunted england

singing ring-a-ring-a-rosy

ashes, ashes, all fall dead

and a lot of fences got built

around a lot of hungry people

who posed for a lot of catlins

who shot their fronts

and snapped their backs

just say commodity cheese, please

and a lot of Indians got moved and removed

relocated and dislocated

from c to shining c

from a 2 z

from spacious skies to fort renos

from purple mountains to oklahoma

from vision quests to long walks

from stronghold tables to forks in the road

from rocks to hard places

from high water to hell

from frying pans to melting pots

from clear, blue streams to coke

and we got beads

and they got our scalps

and we got horses

and they got our land

and we got treaties

and they got to break them

and we got reservations

and they got to cancel them

and we got christian burials

and they got to dig us up

and they got america

and america got us

and they got a home where Indians don’t roam

(now, follow the bouncing cannon ball)

and they got a home where Indians don’t roam

and a lot of young Indians got dead

and those were the glory daze

and we learned the arts of civilization

reciting the great white poets

(oh, little sioux or japanee

oh, don’t you wish that you were me)

singing the great white songs

(onward, christian soldiers

marching as to war

to save a wretch like me

amazin’ race, amazin’ race)

sailing down the mainstream

(with land o’ lakes butter maiden

and kickapoo joy juice role models

for good little Indian girls and boys)

and we got chopped meat

and we got buffaloed

and we got oil-well murders

and they got black-gold heirs

and they got museums

and we got in them

and they got us under glass

and we got to guide them

and they got the kansas city chiefs

and we got a 14,000-man b.i.a.

and we got pick-up trucks

and they got our names for campers

and they got rubber tomahawks

and we got to make them

and they got to take us to lunch

and we got to eat it

and they got richer

and we got poorer

and we got stuck in their cities

and they got to live in our countries

and they got our medicines

and we got to heal them

and we got sick

and they got, well, everything

and we got to say please and thank you

and good morning, america

you’re welcome, y’all come

and have a nice hemisphere

then, all of a sudden, a new day dawned

and america yawned

and the people mumbled

something about equality and the quality of life

some new big deal to seal the bargain

and jack and jill went to the hill

to fetch some bills to save us

and the united snakes of america

spoke in that english-only forked-tongue way

about cash-on-the-barrelhead, hand-over-fist

in exchange for Indian homes on the termination list

and bankers and lawyers and other great white sharks

made buyers-market killings when more chiefs made their marks

and lots of Indians packed their bags and old-pawn

for fun with dick and jane and busing with blondes

for a bleeched-out, white-washed american morn

while we were just trying to live and get born

and a lot of young Indians got dead

in america’s 2 big wars

and the little ones they tried to hide

like the my-lais

and other white lies

and the millions on the grate-nation’s main streets

with holes in their pockets

and tombstones for eyes

you see, america was busy lunching

and punching clocks

(and each other, don’t tell)

and pushing paper

(and each other, do tell)

and loving and leaving cabbage-patch/latch-key kids

in the middle of the road and nowhere

(where everything got touched but their hearts

where $ bought the love they were worth)

and america’s daddy and mommy looked

up from their desks

out from their ovens

over their shoulders

behind the times

down their noses

and right before their eyes

but just out of sight

behind flashlights in abandoned buildings

through crack in the walls

and in the halls of boarding schools

a lot of young Indians got dead, too

girls with bullets, booze and lysol for boyfriends

boys with nooses and razor blades for cold comfort

and a few grandmas and grandpas

on their last legs anyway

and we who were left behind

sang songs for the dead and dying

for the babies to stop crying

for the burned-out and turned-out

for the checked-out and decked-out

ain’t that just like ‘em

we said over cold coffee and hot tears

for getting themselves dead

forgetting to tell us goodbye

for giving america no 2-week notice

forgiving america with their bodies

ain’t that just their way

to gather us up and put us down

gee, kids really do the darnest things

like get themselves dead

like a lot of them did

just yesterday and today

and a lot of young Indians got dead

faster than they could say


oh, say, can’t you see

they learned america’s song and dance

from the rocket’s red glare

to god shed his light on thee

they read america’s history

where they weren’t

or were only bad news

they laughed when president rip van reagan

told the russians the u.s.

shouldn’t have humored us

they passed when senator slender reed said

find another country or play this hand

they learned the lessons about columbus

in child-proof, ocean-blue rhymes

along with other whiteboy-hero signs of the times

they saw the ships sailing, again

and a future as extras

in movies where Indians don’t win

they knew they were about to be discovered, again

in someone else’s lost-and-found mind

in an old-world, new-age, snake-oil re-run

as much fun

as the first scent of those sailors

fresh from the hold

exhaling disease, inhaling gold

and a lot of young Indians escaped just in time

to miss the good wishes and cheer

have a happy, have a merry

have a very nice columbus year

10 little, 9 little, 8 little Indians

7 little, sick little, live baby Indians

poor little, me little, you little Indians

the only good Indian’s a dead 1

--suzan shown harjo

(on the eve of 1992)



It began with la danza macabra

It began with clouds floating on water

It began with men in boots on the beach

It began with men with metal heads

It began with men with hairy faces

It began with men in robes and ropes

It began with men with crosses and bibles

It began with bows and outstretched arms

It began with open hands and smiles

It began with gestures from the heart

It began with names, repeated slowly

It began with hands to mouths and bellies

It began with hungry men at dinner

It began with laughter and songs of joy

It began with a dance from across the sea

It began with rats from el nino ships

It began with fleas from mice and men

It began with labored breathing

It began with chills and fever

It began with hollow eyes

It began with cold blue lips

It began well, but

It ended, well, badly

It ended as a danse macabre

It ended with fixed eyes

It ended before anyone knew what happened

It ended with white men welcoming us to our own countries

It ended with white men making no-trespassing signs to keep us out

It ended with white men making movies about how we brought it on ourselves

It ended with the drunken marriage of mel gibson and george allen

It ended with la danza macabra


--suzan shown harjo