V. The Ones Who Got Away

   The Ones Who Got Away    -    For Hazir    -    Reflections on a Line by Anna Akhmatova    -    Vocation 

"For Hazir" and "Reflections on a Line by Anna Akhmatova" originally appeared in Tikkun


The Ones Who Got Away
Migratory Behavior Observed Among Schoolchildren

Yes, I’ve heard about it, too -- the missing children.
       The ones who simply slipped away – who knows how? –
     somewhere between the end of the last class
and lining up for the big yellow school bus
           idling out on the asphalt, exhausting itself,
             waiting for the kids to board and buckle up.

And the driver checks the seats, reports: seven missing.
Five boys, three girls. That doesn’t add up. He recounts.
          Okay. Eight. But nobody saw them running anywhere.
How can that be? Everyone knows these kids.
           But they’re gone. It’s got to be those Indians,
          the principal speculates, not without reason.

Not without reason to his way of thinking. He objects
to the way the social studies teacher encourages kids
           to “enter the Native American world” as it once was.
           Progressive education. Jeezus. And now they’ve gone
      and done it. It starts with the kids staring out
            the window at something teachers can’t see.

Then there’s the doodle or sketch of an Indian, usually
just one, standing at the edge of the last bit of woods,
         sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, with a horse,
       the sketch found only later, in a book, a day or two
          after the kid’s gone. You can tell they’re Indians
                 by their hair, by the buckskin clothes they wear.

Not just the one school. Reports come in from all over,
 starting with the area around Cape Cod and Providence,
    then spottily spreading south, then across the Plains,
  and west, across the Rockies, to the coast. Always,
    despite slight regional differences, pretty much
           the same Indian, man or woman, with a horse.

Where were those children -- the kids who, after supper,
vanished to chat with people on the Internet, people they
       had never met, or play action-hero games behind doors
  closed to them, or perhaps -- who knew? -- they did
             their homework, while the parents, on the sofa, mute,
               let the TV actors carry on a conversation for them.

Four thousand missing and here’s Thanksgiving’s coming up.
       Who now wants to be reminded of that First Feast and the debt
  the Settlers owed the Indians? They owed them nothing!.
     Weren’t Indians the insurgents of their day? Hadn’t they
    risen up against the Puritans? So let’s go after them!
      Some did, and lost their shirts in Indian casinos.

    Others sought their children in dioramas at the Mashantucket
Pequot Museum, where a Pequot family sits calmly eating
           succotash or stitching hides. They scan the faces and some
         wonder how they themselves, once seated in this fashion,
                could get up. It would be hard. Age would make it harder.
                    But would their missing children enjoy this sort of life --

      the boys running naked all summer long until the age of twelve,
      the girls wearing nothing but a skirt? Was this what made them
 slip away -- the thought of life among the leaves, among
  the woodlands of New England before the ships arrived?
        Mothers lingered by these recreations of a vanished life.
           It eased their minds to enter into them, and sit a spell.

   The breaking news out west was the sighting of a flock of eagles,
larger than had been seen in years, near Crestone, Colorado.
           Did the rough V they formed point to some encampment where
  the children might be found? When the eagles turned back
           toward the mountains, the area was searched. The feathers
          found, however, were of Eastern hawks – suggestive of

unusual migration, of birds or long-sought-for children capable
   of flight, if only in a state of trance. One psychologist speculated
         that “we could be talking of spiritual migration, like the Rapture,
          but within the body.” In any case, the find allowed some parents
        to believe, or hope, their kids had learned to fly, or at least
      to glide, to survive at altitudes once reserved for birds.

The feather-find gave hope, but it was a single mother in Sioux City
who drove to Mashantucket and back -- and pondered on the way.
  Her grandfather had bartered with the Sioux -- dry goods for
        headdresses and moccasins. Something wrong with the exchange,
           she felt, and fasted for three days. It made her feel lightheaded,
         as if flight were possible. She prepared a succotash and ate,

squatting Indian-fashion on the kitchen floor and using no utensil but
her hand She felt the breeze before she saw him. It was her son. He
  stood there, with painted face and body brown. He bowed to her,
  held out a hand to help her up. When she began to question him,
       he put a finger to his lips. Other mothers followed her example.
            They learned to listen to the silence, and began to understand

© Jon Swan

For Hazir

The drone hovers
the iron-gray dome
of heaven

turns the grey dome

Evenings we
our hands
over the news

      © Jon Swan

Reflections on a Line by Anna Akhmatova*

“Earth takes us in a while as transient guests.”
The sky maintains its ancient look of innocence.
The seven seas dutifully repeat: the sky is blue.
Yet all is altered by our residence.

The sea that tumbles onto shore is not the sea
we waded in as kids. We’ve changed its nature.
Islands of our waste the size of several Texases
suggest it’s time for our departure.

Grant the sky its innocence; the atmosphere
in which we live and breathe bears witness
to a hundred thousand airplane flights a day,
which expedite our unmourned exodus.

“Earth takes us in a while as transient guests.”
We’ve had our time, and now it’s time to leave.

*The line is from “The Four of Us,” written in November 1961,
as translated by Stanley Kunitz.

© Jon Swan


Inscribing ivy
on a burning wall


© Jon Swan

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