“Wolf (1990) for soprano, violoncello and piano, based on the poem by Kanawake Mohawk author Peter Blue Cloud, was commissioned by the Samuel S. Fels Fund and composed for Janice Fiore and David Geber. The text describes the gruesome reality of violence perpetrated through greed and lust. This reality, however, is transfigured by the victim’s spirit which, in the form of a shadow, absorbs and consumes it, changing evil into dancing energy.
“I had known this and other writing of Blue Cloud since the early 1980’s, initially from his contributions to Akwesasne Notes. After becoming acquainted with ‘Wolf,’ I made numerous attempts to locate him, with the hopes of arranging a meeting. He was very elusive, though, like John Trudell as Jimmy Looks Twice in Thunderheart. Even at Kanawake, people weren’t sure of his whereabouts, and as it turned out, he spent quite a bit of time on the West Coast. I never did get to meet him, but like other great artists, it doesn’t matter, for he is in his work, and available to us whenever we seek him, now and forever.
“The pre-compositional phase in setting the lines of text that I had selected involved an unusual bit of Stanislavski technique. I went in the woods and got down on all fours, then put my right arm behind my back and tucked my right hand under my belt. Thus handicapped, like the wolf in the poem, I moved frantically about, panting, trying to find patches of shade to hide under, digging in the ground to make a safe place for the pups, quivering at imagined bursts of gunfire, recalling the massive teeth of the metal jaws that had taken my limb, howling in pain. Before any notes were written, I needed to act this all out.
“The setting depicts the poem’s drama, and I assign roles for the performers. For instance, in the introduction, the piano starts out with material representing the hunter stomping through brush, relentless, menacing. The cello here is the wolf, at first attempting to hide, then scurrying across the open fields. Musical motifs that sound like rifle shots, traps snapping shut, paws digging into the ground gather in a text-‐painting apotheosis toward the end. The work culminates in a crazed dance. I used concerto form for the piece, a modified sonata-‐allegro structure, with double exposition and development, and a recapitulation in which the secondary material returns first and the principal material comes afterward, expanding into a long coda.”
by Peter Blue Cloud
January 28, 1974
burrowing deep into earth, until the grave is complete, hiding in daytime shadows, panting,
dry matted blood
and stump of a leg,
wolf, his growls into whimpers of pain unending.
she-‐wolf keening the stiffened, frozen cubs, licking the frosted muzzles cyanide tracings,
the steaming meat
she gently places
as an offering, though she knows they are dead.
run down to earth and snow with bursting heart, down to the bright red hammering pulse, and further
one by one
the rifle shot
echo resounding a terrible, alien blood lust.
protruding blackened tongues, no more the night chant, blanket of sound, the earth her moaning,
her womb emptied,
and the seed
dried and rustling in a wind of forgotten leaves.
moon shadows wolves in circle council
bent starlight of fingered sleet
rattles the gourd of earth.
scent of pine in frozen north
again the rifle shot and snapping jaws
hunter, trapper predators
and low in death chant
the last staggers
of steel traps,
winds carry his voice into tomorrow
I dance upon my three remaining legs,
the memory of the fourth keeps my balance,
my whispy white and cyanide fog-‐breath,
taut sinew vibrates the sky’s held thunder,
steel traps I weave a necklace of your making,
hah! puffs of dust I quick-‐stomp with paw feet,
I am becoming you dancing for them,
I jump upon your back a heavy robe,
my shadow will nip your pumping ankle,
huh! you will think you me in the full moon night,
I crush your long bones sucking marrow, nose your severed head before me the trail, tear strips of flesh the ribbons weave a net, chew hair and fingernails into mash
I slap upon my festered stump your human glue,
now you are dancing,
hah! now you are dancing.
Copyright ©1975 by Kenneth Rosen
Reprinted from Voices of the Rainbow: Contemporary Poetry by American Indians, edited by Kenneth Rosen, originally published by Seaver Books, NY, NY, 1980.
Permission to use text granted July 1989
by Seaver Books/Arcade Publishing, Inc.
Extension of permission granted May 2012
by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.