Friday, November 19, 2004

Changing Names


For Jim Thorpe, 1888-1953

He had an Irish name and an Indian face,
a half-breed, born on an Oklahoma reservation –
strength of steel tempered by balletic grace.
A bear of a man, he became the pride of a nation

that reveres the athleticism of inferior races.
In a collegiate dance contest, he first showed his stuff.
Light on his feet, he threw off the traces
until the judges conceded: “Enough is enough.”

The Carlisle Indians were real redskins.
In one game the score was Thorpe 18, Harvard 13.
They finished that season with eleven wins.
He was the best anyone had seen.

In 1912, thousands of miles from home,
his athleticism, like the Olympic flag, unfurled
before the blonds, agog, in Stockholm.
The king called him “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Fast-forward to 1953 and a poor drunk
dying in a trailer park in Lomita, CA.
His third wife sold his corpse to Mauch Chunk,
which changed its name to Jim Thorpe, PA,

a petered out mining town where
they buried him in a sure-fire tourist site.
An Indian name, Mauch Chunk means “Sleeping Bear.”
Thorpe’s, “ Wa-Tho-Huk,” means “Path of Light.”

Robert Forrey