Poetry June 2005

Ishi

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Ishi, the last of his tribe,
walked out of the forest.
He was dying of starvation.
A home was found for him,
the Anthropology Museum,
and harmless occupations.

He helped the hospital nurses
clean their instruments.
He showed Professor Kroeber
his tools: a pot for cooking,
a rope, a basket,
a bow and arrow.

                    *

Ishi liked to walk to town
and ride the trolley.
Kroeber took him to the opera.
Instead of watching the show
Ishi turned his chair around
and looked at the crowd.

The first airplane he saw
made exploding noises.
"American man go up
in sky," he said, and laughed,
like an ancient Roman,
not to be astonished by anything.

                    *

Ishi died of tuberculosis.
He was buried with five arrows,
"some things of a personal nature,"
and left the noisy world
as quietly as he came,
taking the forest with him.

 

Louis Simpson received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1963. His most recent book is The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001.
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