The first pictures
of the earth from space
showed a blue and white jewel
shining out of the blackness.
It was like seeing
patches of blue in the sky
after a difficult storm,
that gave us hope,
or seeing rare blue flowers
on an ancient forest floor,
or the sparse blue iris —
in the dry desert.
Blue is the color of promise,
the color of hope.
We drove Grand Mesa’s unpaved, snow-packed roads
Around its hairpin curves until the banks
Of drifts were high enough to stop the plows.
Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins slammed
Car doors and shouted so their voices echoed off
The slopes and cliffs that soared into the sky.
Then “food enough to feed an army,” sleds,
Toboggans came from car trunks as the day’s
Festivity spilled out into the winter cold.
My Dad and Uncle dug into the snow
To make a fire with driftwood, branches found
Down in the canyon as we’d driven by
The stream that gurgled songs beneath the ice.
Then, looking down the road toward a bank
That lurched uphill before a hairpin curve,
The oldest of my cousins laughed and jumped
Onto her sled, her head downhill, and slid
Like lightning flashed into a coal-black sky:
The slope so steep she flew, the hill of white
A half mile down as solid as a wall,
The road beneath her hard and slick as ice.
Her mother, Aunt Viola, laughed to see
Her fly toward the snowbank wall as I
Could hardly breathe to see the tragedy
Unfolding as the sunlight glared into my eyes.
My eyes began to hurt. She had to crash
Or slam into the wall of snow so hard
She wouldn’t be my cousin anymore.
But, as she hurtled down toward her doom,
She dragged her legs behind the racing sled
And turned the blades before she hit the hill,
And everybody who had come to watch
Began to yell when she rolled off the sled,
Popped to her feet and shot her arm into the air.
When, after other cousins dared the hill,
I hesitated, swallowing to see
The downhill slope, my younger brother jumped
Ahead of me and joined into the fun.
I stood above my sled and felt my heart
Quail, staring down toward the distant bank
That still seemed solid as a concrete wall.
I froze and couldn’t move until my Dad,
Behind me, got me on my sled and pushed
Me off as cold and snow and light became
A blur of flying, flying down the road.
I flared my legs behind the hurtling sled
And tried to slow down as I turned the blades,
The running sound beneath my stomach, snow
A cloud of ice as I rolled off the sled
And came up, sunk in snow up to my hips,
And shouted with my arm up in the air.
We dropped her off
after the Christmas program.
Snow was on the ground.
The night was cold.
We waited, with
our car running,
for her to get inside.
instead of going
in the front door,
she scurried up
a wooden ladder
that was placed outside
to an upstairs bedroom.
Faster than a blink of an eye
faster than we ran up
our own stairs at home.
I woke with his face still in my head,
a handsome young man who looked something like
the oil drilling roustabout
who had lived next to my parent’s house when I was a kid
rough around the edges with startling blue eyes.
When he spoke, though, his voice
was like the classical music
on vinyl records I bought as a teenager
when I wasn’t listening to Simon and Garfunkel
or a country and western star my parents really liked.
“He won’t be like most people expect,”
he’d said in the dream.
“He’ll come out of a tower as opulent,
and filled with human hubris, as the Tower of Babel,
shining even when no sun is in the sky,
and when he speaks, great throngs will gather
even though pestilence is raging,
and their shouting and adulation will stir winds
and fan it into the most remote parts of the land.
“He won’t drive around in a beat up, old pickup
like many of his followers,
but will sail in a huge, black limousine fancier than
most people’s houses,
and he’ll use grievance and insult to stir masses
that march to Sunday church
where they worship a humble man, who championed
the poor and downtrodden
and said fat cats had as much chance
getting into heaven
as a rich man had of getting a camel
through a needle’s eye.
“And as pestilence spreads and poverty grows
out of pestilence,
dissension and intolerance will enter into people’s spirits,
and chaos will churn into an earth
beset by destructive storms, floods, droughts,
and great forests burning, spawning tornadoes of flames,
disasters creating wailing and despair
even as the ocean rises
and voices speaking prophetic warnings
can barely be heard above endless tumult.
“O, he won’t be dressed in red or have horns
or a pointed tail.
He’ll wear expensive suits and act like a common man
with a whirlwind voice singing resentment and anger
and the exquisite joys and promise of human greed.”
As I woke up the man, looking nothing like an angel, smiled,
and I felt disoriented,
wondering if I was waking up, or was trapped, somehow,
in a continuing dream’s fog.
Tribal College Press has launched Meditation on Ceremonies of Beginnings! The book went up on their site, https://tribalcollegejournal.org/buy-meditation-on-ceremonies-of-beginnings, yesterday. I have emphasizing the Tribal College Press site for purchases because any purchase here goes to help the tribal college movement out through work that the Tribal College Journal does with all of the colleges.
To me, at least, this is the most important book I have ever written, as accidental as it is in some senses. It represents decades of work for all the tribal colleges and specifically for the colleges that I worked directly for over much of my life. Imbedded in the book also are all the sacrifices Ethel and my children, Sonja, Mary, and Kevin, made during the years when I was working so hard to make so many things happen of American Indian communities and students in individual communities and nationwide. I also want to celebrate Ethel’s magnificent pastel the press used for the cover.
I received my first copy of the finished book at the house yesterday, and I was surprised at how much emotion it generated in me. The tribal colleges and universities and international indigenous controlled institutions of higher learning are so important! All of us need to reach out, if we are not American Indian people, to the original people of this land and celebrate them and feel the power of what they and their communities have to offer the world. I hope that in the pages of this book of poetry both Indians and non-Indians can find the spirit of the tribal colleges and universities and then become inspired to support them in some concrete way. They are still among the poorest funded colleges and universities in this country even though they are doing God’s work in some of the poorest places in the United States.
The old menare dreaming bad dreams.The rain will not fallon our land.Even the deep waterstays away.I yearn for the earthto give us her blessing,her sanction,so we can harvestthe oats and rye again,so I can runto the far fieldto wrap my arms aroundthe face of my horseand dream good dreams.
In my dream
it was nighttime.
I was in a muddy field
overlooking a large city
with bright lights.
The field was enclosed
with barbed wire,
and there was a herd of cattle
within the enclosure.
The cattle were not really cattle,
but were members of my family.
They were up
to their bellies in mud,
unable to move.
Hundreds of poisonous frogs
were climbing onto the cattle,
killing them with their bites.
This was a foretelling,
a story of betrayal
a story of survival
an ancient story.
Come over here
and sit down by this tree,
and I will tell you this story.
It is a story of my life
the farmer separated
the calf from its mother.
He wiped away
the amniotic fluid
with a gunny sack
before putting him
in a separate pen.
Black children born
to enslaved parents were
taken from their weeping mothers
and moved hundreds of miles away.
were snatched from anxious parents
and moved to some miserable life.
A Central American baby
Is ripped from its mother’s arms.
Both baby and mother’s spirits
The farmer’s wife protested,
“keep the calf with its mother.
Do you need every ounce of milk?”
“This is the way we do things,”
replied the farmer.
The new calves
are growing stiff
from the wetness of birth,
and old men
come running across the fields
who killed our
I say to them,
surely dead leaves
can’t grow in your pockets now.