Vestige by Chris Nord

This prose poem borrows history from an unpublished work of William James Sidis, thought by many to be the most intelligent known human of the 20th century. The youngest student ever to matriculate at Harvard, Sidis became convinced as the result of his wide-ranging research that the tribe who had been displaced , and faced eradication, by the European settlers at Boston –  the Okamakamesset (his spelling) –  had passed knowledge of their form of government to the “New Englanders”– a corrupted version of which was eventually implemented, and survives here today.


By Chris Nord                                                                                                dedicated to the Okamakamesset

The sharp irony

of the steel fence around Plymouth Rock

makes gawking tourists of summer pilgrims;

we watch from the distance

our journey assigns us

aware that something badly skewed

begun here centuries back

is clearly evident.

There was no fence

around Plymouth Rock

autumn of 1620

or anywhere

except the harsh encampment

on the shore of Wampanoag

200,000 aware of this alien presence

watchful, yielding this much                                                                                                                                              

— the frozen months would tell.

Hard winter

death from cold and hunger

claimed many of the squatters

while a colder blackness

bit deep in the heart of Wampanoag

something carried on the wind

for which they had no medicine

brought an epidemic clear to the river

we call “Connecticut”

until by the return of the sun

the Wampanoag had lost three quarters of their people.

These squatters could have all been killed in their sleep

(some believe this would have been the wisest course)

but through the guidance of Massassoit

the Wampanoag sent an emissary named Samoset

to offer assistance to the alien survivors.

Samoset also brought suggestions for self-governance

which the six nations of the Penacook

had adopted from the Iroquois

and which to this day

only these indigenous peoples

have ever practiced in its pure form.

The offering was adulterated by the intruders

because they could not leave their old ways

of needing money and property

and the distinctions of class and power

that these imply

— but the vestige of this native gift

something we call “democracy”

is still practiced with the greatest vitality

in the homeland of the Penacook.

What this has meant here

these generations later

that calls us to this site

is sporadic protest

amidst wide disbelief

there could be something carried on the wind

for which our people have no medicine

coming from a wormwood fortress

we call “Pilgrim”.

We climbed the hill

in search of a statue overlooking the harbor

but I was not prepared for the likeness

of Massasoit, facing east with his pipe

or the grief and shame I felt

for the desecration of his gift

I cannot fathom the purification it will take

to set it all again to right

but toward that distant end

do I and my companions wander.

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