Joan Colby

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The Eternal Indian

A fifty-foot high statue
Crafted by Lorado Taft in 1910. The Eternal Indian
Better known to locals as Black Hawk,
Stands, arms-crossed, above the Rock River.Artwork by Gene McCormick
Slabs of its concrete façade,
Cracked, scabbed and broken.

The brilliance of fall plumage broken
By the impassiveness of a statue
Built to maintain the façade
Of Vachel Lindsay’s tribute to the Indian
Bold in your war-array. The fluent river
Below; in the grey sky, one hawk

Soars, probably a red tail. Black Hawk
Led his band northward, broken
Like the turbulence of many rivers.
Representing a lost encampment, the statue
Is all that remains of these Indians
In a state named for their tribe. The façade

Is ironic. A badly constructed fascia
To honor the memory of Black Hawk,
Sternly oblivious as the lost Indians
That time and promise rendered broken
As trust-funds, treaties, statutes.
A stairway zigzags steeply to the river

Where once an arts colony flourished, river-
Side, hopeful of enabling the façade
Of poetry or painting or a statue
To matter. It wasn’t even Black Hawk
That Taft intended in a new form too easily broken
By time and heedlessness like the Indian

Now called Native American by those to whom Indian
Reminds how, simply as a river’s
Westward current, a way of living can be broken.
Reservations with dilapidated facades
Of cheap houses, rotting trailers, discouraged men. The hawk
Of their dreams shot down long ago. Beleaguered statue.

Statue raised in the façade
Of broken myth above a river’s
Commerce. Black Hawk. The Eternal Indian.


Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner.Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). She is the editor of Illinois Racing News and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 10 books including The Lonely Hearts Killers, The Atrocity Book and her newest book from Future Cycle Press—“Dead Horses.” FutureCycle will also publish “Selected Poems” in 2013.