READINGS | “Nous Celeron”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I decided to port this poem over to WestVirginiaVille from my personal writing site, as it speaks, I feel, to our turbulent times. Everywhere you turn, a necessary reassessment, confrontation, and revelation of hidden biases is underway, from unhealed centuries of racism and colonial power-grabbing that shape the present world in yet unaddressed ways. This poem resulted from a recent road-trip to Tu-Endie-Wei State Park in Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia, a Wyandotte phrase for “point between two waters.” It was there French adventurers laid claim—above and below the ground—to ancient American Indian lands and waters. Some of the long-time residents of the territory were not impressed. It’s also my first aattempt at a bi-lingual poem. I invite native French speakers (or sharp second-language ones) to correct any errors I might have made. Merci bien! ~ Douglas John Imbrogno


Plate and Tree | Tu-Endie-Wei State Park | Pt. Pleasant, OH | aug2020

‘Pour Retablir La Tranquillite Dans Quelques Villages Sauvages …’
~ Excerpt from plaque at Tu-Endie-Wei State Park


1.

Don’t you wish to lay down
your arms, this fine August
day? Beneath a sun

burnished the hue of your
bronze breastplate? Listen!
hear the trumpets of

Canadian geese, marching
in formation, across the sky
above the sparkled Ohio,

Indian word for ‘beautiful.’
Or ‘big’ or ‘wide.’ I forget.
Yet here at Tu-Endie-Wei

park, the Wyandotte for
point between two waters,’
you staked a claim with

buried lead, Pierre Joseph Céleron
de Blainville. At the confluence of
the Ohio and Chinodahichetha,

which no one calls it that
these days, although they should,
instead of the Kanawha.


2.

With a royal ‘we,’
Nous Céleron,’ you laid claim,
above and below the earth, in

the year 1749, July 29th, in the
reign of Louis XV, ‘Roy de France,’
ownership, nay, possession of

both sides of the Ohio, the
Belle Riviere,’ the beautiful
river, ‘and of all those which

empty into it, and of all the
lands on both sides as far as
the sources of said river
s.’

Claiming its entire length,
every tributary that swelled
its wide wake, winding in its

ancient meander to the
uttermost west, then south,
to—did you know where?


3.

Not you—weighted by your
heavy cloth coat, your
musketry and protective plates.

Perhaps dragging a wagon chock
with flagons of good French wine.
Secretly itching to remove

your Commandant Du
Detachement
uniform. The
one that marked you greater

than the lesser soldiers, and
Indians pressed into
your service. But not others, the

ones who resented you, bright
flower of La Nouvelle France,
come to assert your king’s

prerogative and historic claim
over these wild lands and
untamed rivers. ‘Pour

Retablir La Tranquillite
Dans Quelques Villages Sauvages.’
Yet not all Indian ‘savages’

esteemed your buried plates,
claiming rights to rivers they’d
given other names.

Iroquois in your party, resentful
of your brazen copper claims,
returning home eastward to

present-day New York, tore down
tin signs nailed to trees above the
buried copper plates, proclaiming

Nouvelle France had passed this
way. And would return, with men
and weapons should savages resist.


The Plate. | Tu-Endie-Wei State Park | Pt. Pleasant, OH | aug2020

4.

Did you ever wish to set it
down? The sword, the musket,
in your privacy. Away from the

relentless, all-gazing eye
of the boiling noon-day sun. And
of history! For we see you

to this day. Your impressive,
dredged-up, copper-claiming
plates. Now, on display for

we distracted tourists, wishing
for an ice cream cone. Eyeing
for a moment, your impressive,

yet, it should be stated, pitiable
proclamation. Claiming
for Louis XV the unclaimable.

A river older than your belle
France. Older than ‘quelques
villages sauvages
,’ whom you

bested for a few years, a
couple decades perhaps, certainly
not even two full centuries.

An imprecise display of earthly
dominance. I see you. And see beyond
you. Napoleon coming. Napoleon

going, going. Gone. His heirs
reasserting the incessant dream of
empire, man’s one true religion.


5.

Then, in your future,
an heir’s demise. Neck bared
beneath the baleful glare of the

sun’s orb, which watches all human
effort, impassively. As the blade
drops, will drop. Has dropped,

on your descendants, O Commandant
d’un detachment envoie, sent by
Marquis de la Galissoniere,

Governor General of New France.
The relentless blade separates
neck from head, and the mind

that seeks to own a river’s flow,
forwards, backwards, to its
source. Don’t you, Nous Céleron,

wish to lay down your arms?
Enter the Ohio’s cool darkness,
or the Chinodahichetha!

Sounding out each syllable
as a Wyandotte
might utter them.

And be absolved of all
the sin of striving to
assert an empire, once

again upon a land and
great river and all its
tributaries, that go on and

on and on. I see you, Celeron.
I grieve not for you. But
with you, mon frère.

+ + +
Tu-Endie-Wei State Park | Pt. Pleasant, WV | aug.9.2020

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