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About this poet

In 1951, Ray A. Young Bear was born in the Mesquakie (alternately, Meskwakie) Tribal Settlement near Tama, Iowa. He attended Pomona College between 1969 and 1971. He has also attended the University of Iowa, Grinnell College, Northern Iowa University and Iowa State University.

His books of poetry include The Rock Island Hiking Club (University of Iowa Press, 2001), The Invisible Musician (1990), Winter of the Salamander: The Keeper of Importance (1980), and Waiting to be Fed (1975).

Also the author of fiction and other prose works, his book Remnants of the First Earth (1998) received the Ruth Suckow Award as an outstanding work of fiction about Iowa. His work has also been published in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 1996 and The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (1981).

Young Bear has received a creative writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an honorary doctorate in letters from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. He has taught creative writing and Native American literature at The Institute of American Indian Art, Eastern Washington University, Mesquakie Indian Elementary School, the University of Iowa, and at Iowa State University. Young Bear and his wife co-founded the Woodland Song and Dance Troupe of Arts Midwest in 1983. Young Bear's group has performed traditional Mesquakie music in this country and the Netherlands. He currently lives in Iowa on the Mesquakie Tribal Settlement.

The Aura of the Blue Flower That is a Goddess

Ray A. Young Bear
Immediately after the two brothers entered 
The Seafood Shoppe with their wide-eyed wives 
and extra-brown complexioned stepchildren, 
the shrimp scampi sauce suddenly altered 
its taste to bitter dishsoap. It took a moment 
to realize the notorious twosome were "carrying"
medicines, and that I was most likely the next 
target in the supernatural shooting gallery. 
It was yet another stab at my precious 
shadow, ne no ke we ni, the one who 
always Stands First, wildly unafraid 
but vulnerable.

This placement of time, this chance meeting 
at Long John Silver's had already been discussed 
over the burning flower clusters, approved, 
and scheduled for a divine assassination.
What an ideal place to invisibly send forth 
a petraglyph thorn to the sensitive 
and unsuspecting instep I thought.
Out of fear I had to spit out the masticated 
crustacean into the folded Dutch bandana. 
I signalled Selene with my eyes:
something is terribly wrong here.

Even in the old stories, ke ta-a ji mo na ni, 
my grandmother recited there was always 
disagreement, jealousy, and animosity 
between supernatural deities. That 
actuality for humans, me to se na ni wa ki, 
however was everpresent. It didn't conclude 
as an impasse that gave us the weather, 
the four seasons, the stars, sun, and moon. 
Everything that was held together.

there could only be one re-creation 
of earth. If it was requested in the aura 
of the blue flower that I die, 
the aura would make sure I die. . .

Later, the invisible thorn--when removed by 
resident-physicians (paying back their medical 
loans)--would transform into some unidentifiable 
protoplasm and continue to hide in the more 
sensitive, cancer-attracting parts of the fish-

In the mythical darkness that would follow 
the stories the luminescent mantle of the kerosene 
lamp would aptly remind me of stars who cooled 
down in pre-arranged peace--to quietly wait 
and glow.

From The Rock Island Hiking Club by Ray A. Young Bear, published by the University of Iowa Press. © 2001 by Ray A. Young Bear. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Ray A. Young Bear

In 1951, Ray A. Young Bear was born in the Mesquakie (alternately, Meskwakie) Tribal Settlement near Tama, Iowa