List of Poems

Artery

While Hendrix Played a Solo: "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"

Related Publication

From the Western Door

From the Western Door to the Lower West Side contains photographs from Milton's Native American series and poems by Eric Gansworth, a Native American (Onondaga) visual artist and poet. The photographs were taken on reservations on the outskirts of Buffalo and in Buffalo's Lower West Side. Gansworth's writing reflects the journey from the Longhouse's Western Door of Seneca reservation culture, a culture distinctly different from the lifestyles of the Lower West Side, the neighborhood many people migrated to when their families left their reservation homes. Published by White Pine Press (2009).

Visit the Rogovin Store to purchase available books and films »

About Eric Gansworth

Eric Gansworth

Eric Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, was born and raised at the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Western New York. He received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English from Buffalo State College. He is an Associate Professor of English and holds a position of Writer in Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. His previous work includes a novel, Indian Summers, and a collection of poetry, Nickel Eclipse: Iroquois Moon; numerous Native literature anthologies include his poetry and fiction. Eric is also an active artist and has painted the cover illustrations for a number of his books.

Poems reproduced on this website by permission of the publisher/author.

Inspired by Milton's Photography

Poetry by Eric Gansworth


From the Western Door to the Lower West Side

Artery

The garage's dark interior
lined high with shelves
of grease-filmed bottles
protects this man's lifeline,
a fusion of chemicals and dreams
coursing through the fuel lines,
keeping his carburetor clean.
The car and owner know the road
and the way miles add up
despite a desire to keep
those numbers from climbing.
Though he trusts the photographer
enough to stand before
his keys to both homes,
he keeps the plate numbers
protected behind his crossed legs,
because some people still believe
"the Only Good Indian
is a Dead Indian,"
and he knows he is too old
to walk from
the Lower West Side
to the Western Door,
and the only way
to ride that forty mile lifeline connecting
the two halves of his divided heart
is his faithful Buick
and those combustion dreams
he protects behind crossed arms.

[Back to top.]



From the Western Door to the Lower West Side

While Hendrix Played a Solo:
"Burning of the Midnight Lamp"

Above them, locked by thumbtacks
to the walls of a Lower West Side
apartment, ignoring the topless
woman pinned to the next wall,
lighting Monterey on fire with a fret
board and strings and those wondrous
fingers, Jimi filled the night
with a haze so purple it rivaled
the wampum beads these two would know
as surely as their own names,
tracing history, culture,
treaties that mostly document
violation – they knew Purple Haze
in their tissue, organs, blood.
In a chair designed for a single
body, they sat together, Skin to
Skin, she wearing Janis Joplin
glasses to see the world
through, he letting his hair grow
into history and toughening up his bare
soles, for the long haul,
testifying that they were
not like those Indians
Edward Curtis imagined through his lens,
they were not vanishing, not going
anywhere – the West Side still
within the territories
they had guarded for centuries.

The western door behind
them, they look at one
another, confident before
the photographer, that this is
the way they want to be recognized,
recorded – hand in hand, knowing
as Jimi did, that "The Star
Spangled Banner" could
bring tears to one's eyes
for a variety of reasons
and that their responsibility
was to hang on as all the other
Indians had before them
surviving to tell the tale, together


[Back to top.]