King Philip's War
by Sheppard Ranbom
"a meditation on tribe and family, natural harmony and human tolerance"
King Philip's War tells the story of the New England Algonquians who hosted the first Thanksgiving and were, within half a century of the European arrival, victims of genocide. With lyric intensity, the book reveals the inner life of King Philip, the rebel Wampanoag leader who led the uprising that historians have called the bloodiest war in American history. Moving from rage to tenderness and resignation, Philip's voice is redolent with the rhythm of the seasons, the beliefs and dreams of an ancient people, and the bitter realities of a civilization being lost. The book—born from historical record and native legend—is a meditation on tribe and family, natural harmony and human tolerance, and has much to say about our 21st century struggle to protect our own civilization.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Sheppard Ranbom spent much of his childhood and youth in a landscape replete with reminders of The Algonquians who once populated all of New England. Educated at Colgate University, he is president and co-founder of CommunicationWorks, LLC, a national public affairs firm focused on education, youth, and social policy issues. King Philip's War is his first book of poetry.
. . . I speak
from the dung and arrow bones,
the slag hills and tobacco barns,
and the blustering, minty birch—
speak not as revenge's renegade,
but as victim of a tragedy played
to genocide: I was America's first terrorist,
the cause of every loss and wrong,
and martyr for the thousands gone.
I SEE MOST CLEARLY after twilight when
the farmers' sheep and cows are hidden
in their pens and the land is restored.
My heart soars higher than smoke.
Above, the moon is small, a conch medallion
the sky goddess wears. We ride in the shadows
of trees, a moving mass of darkness fat as hills.
THEN WE WERE PROUD to take English names.
I rode with my brother and fifty braves into Plymouth,
and was greeted with gawps of wonder, the English
anxious to see the pups who ruled the pack.
In their longhouse, we made a new pact
of friendship, and, to celebrate, smoked tobacco,
while one of their chiefs gave us new titles.
"Wamsutta, henceforth you shall be Alexander,
conqueror of many tribes of Europe and Asia.
Metacom, you shall be Philip, after the king
of Macedon, another great ruler."
FROM LOSS, ALL is made—
my hut, the scalp of trees;
my life's tobacco glow, a dying ash
fanned with my fading breaths.
My smoke is small, a force
that warms and irritates at once.
I sing with burning throat from
a pipe which knows no peace.
My restless sleep is broken
by thought's charges and retreats.
My heart is the hard buckhorn
of a deer slaughtered for its meat.
Our hunger, like a hunter, propels us
through the Great Swamp's unwakened
dead. I weep tears of dew and sunlight
for the black night to end.