Scott Ezell: Ishi, from 'Songs from a Yahi Bow'

for the hundredth year anniversary of ishi’s death


Die into what the earth requires of you.

                                    —Wendell Berry



square tongues   speak brick words

      that couple into nothing,

      surrounded by hair and flowers.


decay of fruit and love and sex,

      all subside

                              into chemical contemplation,

            alcohol and buzzing bees,

              sweet sticky scents.


                  police machines  chop the sky                                       

                  into thistles of noise and fear—


I pick up and carry a river on my back,

a cloak of home

              to drape across

                  the shoulders of the world,

                   enfolding streams and stones.


glaze of bone

across my eyes,

a hood of silence,


  my tongue of salt

  dissolving into words

  I speak to you.





secrets of myself

I discover and discard a thousand times

      flower from your skin,

        seeds of me grown

            from the soil of you.


I am a benevolent bear,

wasted with circus tricks.


I am iron claws,

      and seize you with

        die-cast hands. 

      we are chains and cages,

              we are free.




I am an adze of bone,

and scrape at refinery
                  dross and efflux,
            the slag of engine heat. 

wild birds fly sky trails

            beyond my vision.

      reams of light stack page by page

            across the slush and bray

                  of slaughterhouse corrals.


I am a scaffolding of planed horizons,

ghost mountains rise within my veins.





I drop a cigarette in the gutter

               and flow
    crustacean to the sea. 

  scull the sky with matchsticks,
                                                           scratch and flare
            but compend to nothing,
                        pass a flame
                              to a newspaper,
                              to a forest fire,
                                    to a cock or cunt
                                         to singe the earth
                                       with zygote need— 


      grows gold and gnarled

            from ash and char,


chikakatee, chikakatee,

quail gather and alight

in the cut lawns of city parks.





I am a gravel truck of tar and meat,

petroglyphs of diesel brain.


flicker and glare

of tv memory,

      my tongue is obsidian 

                        arrow blades.


I am a butcher’s apron

      laid between two mountains,

   a blue river flows

            from my stains and folds.





white noise brainwaves

   bleed the sky,

robot sun

      stands from a crack of stone

            into a void of girder ribs,

                  conduits pulse

                                          and circle through.


                  I miss the mouth to the interior of you,

                  the cleft of hair and skin

                        where I recline with boneyard flowers,




                                                 and drink soil soup,

                                 broth of toenails and beards.


—condom wrappers

along the morning sidewalk,

torn silver lining, pale

lubricant sheen—


a million engines

crumple and rust

across my skin,

I am a

scrap metal wilderness,

a myth of one,     

a heart spindle

coiled in wires of






monolith skies

      sift discount coupons

      across a blur of freeway speed, concrete furrows 

            plowed by gasoline.


                        pubic middens

                        of pottery and teeth

                        aggregate into engines.


        insurrection thoughts

                  hang out on corners

                        in baggy jeans

                          and black bandanas,

                        bailbond ads smile from the backs of

                                    bus stop benches,


                                     bottles break into blades,

                                          power lines dissect the sky.




take a bucket of turpentine and

      a wire brush,


      the surface of the sky,


      reflections of yourself

like the scratched and dented tin

      of a subway station mirror,

like the aluminum glint

      between four fingers

holding two dozen nickels worth

      of brownbag beer.



I am the city,

radio static within

            a bottle heart,

            ruled components of

            breath and stone.


rainbow oil, primer gray

      suburban streets,

susurrus of

      broken leaves—

peel electric skin

      from clouds and rain,


      to bulbous core,

America, sink

      your longiphallic soul

into the sea,

      let the world







I am ursine hibernation,

      dark and matted  ,

      I reek and sleep

      through storms of steel decay.


you are the further shore

      across a sea of metal brine,

      petrol flowers bloom

      from the burrow of your womb.


distance shellacs the wholeness of me,

currents of plankton flow between us.





dust trails across a bath of sperm,

      I am abstraction     seized.


headlines slice the streets

open into purple flowers,

sirens unzip the sky and

            beneath the blue it wears a suit and tie.

  old bums with birdnest beards

                        suck wine and nicotine

                by the back doors

                                of strip tease matinees—


a man in rubber gloves

   whistles a tune,

sprays corrosion

   onto the green that grows

from sidewalk cracks.


outside a bar,

an american flag is

stuck to a wall

with chewing gum—

by a silvered window

a polyester girl

worries a diamond ring,

mouth painted red,

hair bleached white,

eyes of plastic blue.


grease and alcohol

  brayered into

          approximations of self,

      the asphalt hush that

day after day I drive—


      photographic visions

                 washed in a stop bath of departure,


            die at home wherever you may be.


[NOTE.  The 100th anniversary of Ishi’s death brings to mind the publication several years ago of a small book, Songs from a Yahi Bow – really a mini-anthology of writings on Ishi – assembled by Scott Ezell & including poems by Ezell, Yusef Komunyakaa, & Mike O’Connor, along with Thomas Merton’s 1968 essay “Ishi: A Meditation.”  Ishi (the Yahi word means “man” or “human”) is well known through the writings of Theodora & Alfred L. Kroeber as the last known survivor of a small Indian community that suffered displacement & genocide during the final European conquest of America.  That memory of course is a warning of dangers & holocausts to come, and much of Ezell’s work is concerned with a range of non-state cultures & a chronicling thereby of globally diverse crises & survivals. 

        Scott Ezell is a Pacific Rim poet & multi-genre artist with a background of  independent study with the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, China, & Southeast Asia. He has published three volumes of poetry & over a dozen albums of original music, & has exhibited paintings in the US & internationally, as well as being involved in installation & performance art projects.   His recent memoir, A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe (University of Nebraska Press), explores indigenous Taiwan through immersion in a nonconformist community of aboriginal musicians & artists.  Since 2010 he has been working on a multi-volume poetry project, Zomia, about marginal landscapes & communities in the China-Burma-Laos border region. (J.R.)]