Two Poems by Hershman John


By: Hershman John

Originally Published in 1995

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Grandmother Moon

Tonight is the Lunar eclipse
Tonight the moon blooms
Tonight my grandma is home.

The cornfield carpets the canyon’s basin
A Navajo field of colored corn
Red, Yellow, Blue and White
Grandma Nalnise whispers to the moon
Her turquoise jewels reflect the evening dinner fire
In the distance the bells of the sheep ring
Overhead the moon begins to glow.
Tonight is the lunar eclipse
Tonight the moon blossoms
Tonight my grandma is home.
Every year, the Crow Fair brings her family back
She holds her sleeping grandchild
In the security of her camp, she sings
Grandma Black Eagle sings for the moon
And the booming drumbeats create the rhythm
The Little Bighorn river reflects the starlit sky
Through the trees the moon begins to glow.
Tonight is the lunar eclipse
Tonight the moon burns
Tonight my grandma is home.
A Hopi village rests quietly on a mesa
In a rectangular room, she whispers a prayer
As the candlelight shadows of the Kachinas dance on the wall
Grandma Honyumtewa prays for the moon
And a lone Kachina points out the window
On the roof top, an owl hoots “who?”
Out the window the moon begins to glow.
Tonight is the lunar eclipse
Tonight the moon bleeds
Tonight my grandma is home.
Relocated to a house in Oklahoma
She lost her Cherokee homeland
In her rocking chair, a tear drops off her cheek
Grandma Webb cries for the moon
While fanning herself with a beaded Eagle-feather fan
The air is sick as a loud car passes by
And over the buildings the moon begins to glow.
Tonight is the lunar eclipse
Tonight the moon beacons
Tonight all my grandmas are home
Tonight they all see Grandmother Moon
Tonight the moon glows deep red like blood
Tonight the moon is Indian.

—Hersham John, 1992

Coyote’s Eyes for Roddy Yellowman

Location: Green Beach
Western Australia, October 1991
Mission: Combat War Games

My brother, Roddy blended into the shrubs and sand
his scanning pupils were like charcoal
The moon reflected liquidity off the black sea
the moon was watching his grandmother
The humid air  was hot as he kept his M-16 rifle
close to his sweaty brown body
It was a rule of the Marines
“Your rifle is an extension of your body”
He slowly crawled on his belly like a coyote
ready to pounce a sleeping jackrabbit.

Coyote called out to his brothers
“Brothers, come help, push my rock”
He wanted to play with the lizards
they were sliding down the hill on the smooth stones
All the little desert lizards ran up the hill
pushing the great rock with my tiny arms
The elder lizard stood at the hill bottom
he shook his head in disapproval
The rock groaned and cracked
Coyote smiled as pebbles rolled down the hill.

Roddy crawled his way up the hill
he was a scout for the military game
With his night-vision goggles he searched for the Aussies
he saw no movement, no fires, nothing
The vision through goggles reminded him of Navajoland
he saw home except the sound of the surf was wrong
His radio crackled like static as he turned it on
“Sir, everything’s dead” he whispered
He hid his form next to a great shrub
“Yeah, Yellowman keep your eyes open” said Sergeant Vega
Then Roddy heard pebbles rolling down the hill
it wasn’t him…

The rock gave way with a great thundering sound
Coyote went underneath it, rolling down the hill
“There’s someone out here!” yelled Roddy into the radio
as the sound of crackling leaves came through the shrubs
The shrub exploded, a bomb made of leaves and twigs
fear raced through his back as he covered his face
Overhead, a great force of wind knocked him over
and he rolled down the hill
With huge eyes like a trout’s they watched in awe
all the desert lizards saw the rolling fall
They scrambled for safety out of the rolling path
and stood watching to see what happens next
As the dancing dust settles.

At the bottom of the hill they  couldn’t see nothing
darkness…they were both blind
Coyote’s beautiful blue eyes popped out of his head
and rolled into a stream, lost
Roddy’s binoculars fell from his brown hand
and rolled into the night;s blanket, lost.

“Ayah! Ayah! cried Roddy and Coyote from the pain
“Chindi net!” they cursed.

Coyote tried to get up
but the rock tore his body apart
One arm went to the East
the other went to the West
One leg went North
and the other went to the South.

Roddy tried to get up
but his back was hurting
“Your rifle is an extension of your body”
the phrase flashed through his mind
His rifle was gone to the directions
it was like losing his protective arms.

All the lizards laughed
until tears came to their eyes
Two crows fell from hands of Grandfather Sky
they were trying to breathe, laugh and fly
It was funny to see Coyote fall apart.

At the hilltop the radio called his name
“Coporal Yellowman!, Yellowman!, Yellowman!…”
He climbed his way back up the hill
“What happened, Yellowman!? Sarge Vega replied
“I don’t know?” “You don’t know!”
“The bush next to me exploded and knocked me down”
“A bush?…is was a God-damn roo!””A roo?”
“A roo…kangaroo…”
Roddy started to laugh until he couldn’t breathe
Vega heard an echo of laughter in the distance
it sounded like a coyote howling at the moon

“Come help me my little brother” howled Coyote
he had no eyes, arms of legs
“I told you not to play with us” instructed the elder lizard
he stood looking at the log Coyote had become
“Help me , brother” “No!” ” Why, brother?”
“Only if you never play with us again”

Roddy found his rifle as the first rays of the Sun
peeked over the blue-black oceans of dawn

The elder lizard instructed the little lizards
they ran to the four directions and brought Coyote’s limbs
They put his arms and legs crookedly on Coyote
finally Coyote stood and said “I can’t see”
His eyes were lost in the stream
so the elder lizards whispered to the two crows
They flew to a nearby hogan over the hill
at a firepit the two crows picked up charcoal
The elder lizard told Coyote to look up at the sky
he looked up and saw nothing
The crows dropped their hot coals
it fell into Coyote’s eye sockets and he screamed
Everyone saw Coyote running around in circles
and they all began to laugh again.

Roddy found his night vision goggles behind a bush
as he stood up to stretch
He blinked his tired charcoal eyes, they felt dry and red
and he wondered if the wet youthfulness would ever return
He watched the moon begin to set into the Australian ocean
it was his grandmother going home
In the fading whiteness of the moon
he saw the brown face of his grandmother
She spoke in broken English finishing her Coyote story
“That’s why when you see a coyote
his body is twisted and raggedy
as for  Coyote’s eyes
they are black and empty
no longer are they beautiful.”

—Hersham John




Cite This Article

John, Hershman. "Two Poems by Hershman John." Expedition Magazine 37, no. 1 (March, 1995): -. Accessed July 17, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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