Thursday, February 11, 2016
She is hard to find in the day
and often flares as a different star, shining
on the river's bend or between the rails
of a roadside fence. Her gleam like a compass rose
pale gold and pulsating in the right spot. Or sometimes, she stands
at the edge of the field when the first quail calls, white gowned
and dangling a drinking gourd from her hand. Her cotton cool
and hanging loose like the homespun shirts or frocks
of those shepherds who appear then disappear
in the dusk. Their names left unspoken, their guidance
freely given. And sometimes, she appears in a dream,
a reindeer tuning the wind with her horns, finding the most
favorable way to blend and forage.
North refers to both the direction in this poem and the north star - a guide for runaway slaves seeking their freedom out of the South. Throughout the poem, she is personified with allusions to the Big Dipper which was known in slave songs as "the drinking gourd" and "shepherds" , another name for the station agents of the underground railroad who helped guide them safely from one point to another, each playing a brief role in the journey. And in some legends, the north star comes as some kind of deer in a dream testing or tuning the wind for the most advantageous direction to migrate, feed and survive.