"And what about our tribe? Speak in me, what?
Tell me the voice that lives inside me, what will happen?
They will know the rapture of exaltation,
the feathers in their hair will make them eagles
over the broken mountains, the lakes will enter
and prickle their cold skins like the fishes,
they will tire like the salmon of a ladder of stones,
and not only the Sioux, not only the Sioux,
the Arapahos, the Cheyennes, the Brules, the Ogalalas,
to the drum in the heart, before the wide silence."
—from The Ghost Dance
The Ghost Dance takes place on a cold winter's day on the Dakota plains, when Kicking Bear brings news of a rebellion to a white widow named Catherine Weldon; when the alarm seeps into the tiny fort nearby, its mixed company splinters apart in the face of the perceived threat. First performed in 1989, it is a parable of American life at a crossroads, drawn from a story with a historical conclusion: Sitting Bull and his Sioux followers will die at the hands of the Army and Indian agents.
Walker, first performed as an opera in 1992 and revived (in a revised version) in 2001, is named for David Walker, the nineteenth-century black abolitionist from Boston who advocated violent revolt against slavery and galvanized his generation. In Walcott's hands he is a classic hero, a political leader who is also a poet.
In both Walker and The Ghost Dance, Walcott brings to life the broken communities whose charismatic leaders would change American history.