Category Archives: Poetry

An Artist that Uses the Color Blue

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

 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,
 blue patches
 that gave us hope,
  
 or seeing rare blue flowers
 on an ancient forest floor,
 or the sparse blue iris —
 a surprise
 in the dry desert.
  
 Blue is the color of promise,
 the color of hope. 

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Christmas Day: Sledding on the Mountain

by Thomas Davis

 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. 

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Christmas

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

 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.
  
 But,
 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
 she went,
 faster than we ran up                
 our own stairs at home.
   

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Warning in a Dream

by Thomas Davis

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 
     spreading disease
 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. 

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All of Us

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

we cannot go
to another planet,
to another earth
in another solar system.
 
We are too late for that,
too far away.
 
Instead, we must
sit down, you and I,
and look into each other’s eyes,
our arms embracing,
before we can save
any of us.
Window

			

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Meditation on Ceremonies of Beginnings Released by Tribal College Press

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.

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In the Time of Covid

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

The old men
 are dreaming bad dreams.
 The rain will not fall
 on our land.
 Even the deep water
 stays away.
  
 I yearn for the earth
 to give us her blessing,
 her sanction,
 so we can harvest
 the oats and rye again,
  
 so I can run
 to the far field
 to wrap my arms around
 the face of my horse
 and dream good dreams. 

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The Telling Dream

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

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
and pain,
a story of survival 
and transcendence,
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 
and yours.

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Separation

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

At birth,
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.
 
Native children
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
are broken.
 
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.

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The New Calves

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

The new calves
are growing stiff
from the wetness of birth,
 
and old men
come running across the fields
asking,
who killed our
apple-blossom time?
 
I say to them,
surely dead leaves
can’t grow in your pockets now.

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