Category Archives: Poetry

Ethel Mortenson Davis Book Named Among Outstanding Poetry Collections for 2018

The Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) gives out yearly awards for outstanding books published each year. This year Ethel Mortenson Davis’s book, Under the Tail of the Milky Way Galaxy has just been recognized as one of seven outstanding books of poetry by Wisconsin poets.

The announcement by the WLA is below:

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What Kind of People are We?

By Ethel Mortenson Davis

Many people are hired
to view disturbing pictures
on Facebook in order
to take them off.

The video is so disturbing
that the people viewing these
cannot continue in their jobs
because they take home
these images in their heads,
and ghosts haunt them
throughout the night.

These are pictures
of rapes of men, women, and children,
and the killings and torture
of women and children and men
along with animals.

People viewing the images
have to leave their jobs with PTSD.

What kind of people are we?
What kind of people do we want to become?

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The Hope of Trees

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

Our president shakes
the hand of the Brazilian leader,
congratulating him on
destroying the Amazon Rain Forest —
faster now than we can imagine.

The Hope of Trees

In the heavy rain
this morning
I waited for you,
but you did not come.
No walkers came at all;

so the dog and I
headed into the deep forest
in pouring rain.

As we walked deeper
into the trees
the rain lessened
until it nearly stopped,
except for a few large drops
that pinged down
from the canopy above.

See, you should have come.

You missed an unforgettable silence
and a white mist
that rose from the bottom
of the forest floor.

It looked so eerie!

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In the Land of Flaming Green Lights

To the Sami people, Jon Henrick Fjallgren

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

My ears are pointed
towards your song,
O Northern son.
It is the call
of the wild arctic wolf,
the sound of icy rivers
rushing over rock,
the kiss of hummingbird wings.
It is a siren call
that has captured me
and now brings me home
to the land of flaming green lights.

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Meditation on the Ceremonies of Beginnings

I just signed a contract with Tribal College Press (TCP) for the publication of a book of poetry titled, Meditation on the Ceremonies of Beginnings.  In 1972 I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and found a teaching position at an alternative school, Menominee County Community School, which was one of the first seven school of the Indian controlled schools movement in this country.  It was through my association with Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, the greatest American Indian leader in Indian education during my lifetime, that I found out about the tribal colleges.

When Dr. Verna Fowler asked me to help her found what became College of the Menominee Nation in 1993, I started writing poems about the tribal college movement and its founding.  I have written a substantial number of poems over the decades, celebrating, mourning, living the tribal college dream of creating a new form of higher education driven by American Indian cultures and languages throughout the United States.

Most of the early poems were written during American Indian Higher Education conferences, or later, World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium conferences, in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia.  I usually wrote them on scrap paper or napkins and then promptly gave them to whomever I was with at the time.  Luckily for me, Marjane Ambler, then Editor of the Tribal College Journal, prevailed upon person after person to save them and send them to her.  Later on, once a handful of the poems appeared in print, I stated saving them myself.

The poems tell a different kind of history about the tribal college and university and World Indigenous controlled institutions of higher education movements in the United States and worldwide.  I am grateful that Bradley Shreve and Rachael Marchbanks at TCP unexpectedly offered to publish the book.

This has been quite a year!  In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, my Washington Island historical novel about the black fisherman community that settled on the island before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that led to the Civil War, should be coming out in the near future.  Now Meditation on the Ceremonies of Beginnings.  I’m really going to have to do some marketing work.  I hope some of you might consider buying either one or both works.  I’ve certainly worked hard enough on both of them.

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Filed under Essays, poems, Poetry, Thomas Davis

Companion Poems by Standing Feather and Ethel Mortenson Davis

Standing Feather, who, along with John Looker over in Great Britain, is one of the greatest of contemporary poets, sent a special email to Ethel Mortenson Davis the other day. He sent a poem, “Mariposa,” which is, in effect, a companion poem to Ethel’s poem, “Circles,” which was published in her book, White Ermine Across Her Shoulders” in 2011. They are both magnificent works of art. Standing Feather’s new poem is presented first, followed by Ethel’s older work:

Mariposa

New Mexico is full of dirt roads
that snake around sandstone mesas
and then straighten into vast expanses
before reaching any stop signs or pavement.
From the mesa tops you can see old trucks
rambling along the valley floor,
making dust that blows sideways
across stretching generations of rocks and people.

There is nothing like riding passenger
in an old truck, and as a child
I set the pace of my life
by Uncle Pink’s ‘66 Ford.
I knew the inner workings of the beast
from my years jockeying on the cracked leather seat.
The power of the vibrations climbed my spine
and rolled from my crown in great waves.

Youth’s wine-filled days are gone.
Today I stopped along a dirt road
to accept an invitation from the mariposa lilies.
Their power to stay rooted while waving in the spring wind
is like old trucks. Both offer rugged simplicity
to compliment the density of the rocks above.
I must be moving on. Remembering Aunt Ethel,
I crank my windows down to listen for the song of the meadowlarks.

Standing Feather 4-19

Circles

When I drive
through the desert,
I keep the windows rolled down
and usually hear a few notes
from the meadow lark.
New Mexico is full of bird life.

This morning, after last night’s shower,
I heard the clicks
of the Rufus hummingbird
through my car’s open window-
a metallic pinging sound-
like electric highline wires make
when you stand under them.

The hummingbird kisses
the delicate circuits
of the eco-systems.

In the north
the snowmobiles run
the gray wolf to exhaustion.
Once the gray wolf
was chased with dog sleds
or snow-shoes
and had a chance
to escape.

The wolf bites at his body
where the bullet enters,
shattering his flesh and bone,
shattering the delicate circles of life.

Ethel Mortenson Davis 2011

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Rural Places

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

Our brothers
saw under bridges,
saw alleys
off Main Street,
saw back rooms
behind bars,
and knew about
the old man up the road.

We, as daughters,
were put under bushel baskets
like the new fragile plants
you set out and cover up,
protecting them from freezing nights.

We didn’t see
the people living in crates
under the bridges,
the beatings and stabbings
in the alleys off Main Street
in our small town,
the women used
in back rooms behind the bars,

and
the wife of the old man up the road
who went on a trip,
but never returned home.

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Filed under Ethel Mortenson Davis, poems, Poetry