The Harvest of Corn

by James Treat

These found poems are drawn from interviews with elderly citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation recorded in 1937-38 as part of the Indian-Pioneer History Project sponsored by the federal Works Progress Administration and archived at the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma. You can read more about this project at Tribal College and Reckoning. —Eds.

the green corn dance is
a harvest celebration
handed down from
generation to generation
            it is usually held
in the summer during
the harvest of corn

a person must not eat corn
until he has celebrated
or he will get sick

the date is set to clean
the cuko rakko    big house
dance ground
        on the date set
they gather and sweep
the whole dancing ground
which is a circle about
thirty feet in diameter
            the ashes where the fire
was built during past year
is swept up and cleaned

the campers moved in
day before the celebration

the first day the men drink
red root    mēkko hoyvnēcv
and sit under the arbors

they drink red root and
vomit all day to clean out
the system   that is before
eating the corn   and the
women drink the red root and
vomit   or some just wash
their faces with it
            in doing this they
turn toward the east
to vomit easier

during the afternoon
the medicine man starts
scratching every man
who participates with
an animals tooth or a needle
on the forearm   four times
skin deep so it will bleed

during the evening
a fire is built by a picked
man who had taken part in the
            when the fire is built
they look on   then that man
picks up the coals and
hands them to the women
to build the fires in
the camp houses

four ears of roasting corn
are laid on the fire pointing
north east south and west
for feeding the fire or
            then the men who
drank medicine all day
goes to the river to swim or
wash the impurities from
their bodies

after the bath
they come in and eat

the men dance and
the women also dance

turtle shells are used by
the women in the dance

a crock of red root is
set aside for the visitors
to drink or wash their faces

the dance is all through
the night   the fire is kept
up   different leaders lead
the dance   it is a pleasure
and enjoyment all night and
play ball next day

Charlie Snakeya, b. 1907

JAMES TREAT is the author of Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era and the editor of several volumes of native literature. His essays and poems have appeared in American Indian Culture and Research JournalAmerican QuarterlyContemporary Verse 2Cultural Survival QuarterlyFourth GenreIndian Country TodayInterdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentMuscogee Nation NewsNative AmericasOrionStudies in American Indian LiteratureTribal College JournalVerbatim Found Poetry, and other academic and literary journals. Treat is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. More information about his work is available at his website.