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About this poet

Born in 1950, Ray Young Bear was raised on the Meskwaki (Red Earth People) Settlement in central Iowa. He graduated high school in 1969, the year he began publishing poetry, and attended Pomona College from 1969 to 1971. He has also attended the University of Iowa, Grinnell College, Northern Iowa University and Iowa State University.

His books of poetry include Manifestation Wolverine: The Collected Poetry of Ray Young Bear (Open Road Media, 2015), The Rock Island Hiking Club (University of Iowa Press, 2001), The Invisible Musician (Holy Cow! Press, 1990), Winter of the Salamander: The Keeper of Importance (Harper & Row, 1980), and Waiting to be Fed (Graywolf Press, 1975).

Young Bear is also the author of Black Eagle Child (University of Iowa Press, 1992) and Remnants of the First Earth (Grove Press, 1998), which received the Ruth Suckow Award as an outstanding work of fiction about Iowa.

Young Bear has received numerous honors and awards, including a 2016 American Book Award, a fellowship 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, Meskwaki Elementary School, the University of Iowa, and at Iowa State University. Young Bear and his wife, Stella, also co-founded the Woodland Singers and Dancers.

Among his accomplishments, Young Bear cherishes the ability to speak and write in his first language. He presently lives on tribally owned land that was established by his maternal grandfather, a hereditary Chief, in 1856.


Bibliography

Poetry

Manifestation Wolverine: The Collected Poetry of Ray Young Bear (Open Road Media, 2015)
The Rock Island Hiking Club (University of Iowa Press, 2001)
The Invisible Musician (Holy Cow! Press, 1990)
Winter of the Salamander: The Keeper of Importance (Harper & Row, 1980)
Waiting to be Fed (Graywolf Press, 1975)

Prose
Remnants of the First Earth (Grove Press, 1998)
Black Eagle Child (University of Iowa Press, 1992)

Four Hinterland Abstractions

1.

today a truck
carrying a Tomahawk
missile reportedly tipped
over on the interstate
                somewhere
labelled an “unarmed warhead”
its fabulous smoke had to be
placated with priestlike
words being murmured by
                yucca-wielding
authorities & while covering
the dormant but cross entity
with tarps that had paintings
of blue mountaintop lakes
                they affirmed
their presence with nudges
& reminders this valley
was sculpted by the once lovely
wings of a vulture & here
                is where
you will quietly attend to
the disorder we heard plainly
over the traffic’s ubiquitous
din & before a smoldering
                star’s song

2.

from one winter night
an inquisitive firefly has directed
itself toward my three children
& through its testament
                of cold light
floral patterns appear over
their snowy tracks replacing
shadows with light that’s detailed
& compelling us to place ourselves
                beside the weeping
willow grandfather to ask him
please behold the witness
                witness

3.

previously as a winsome
ghost that’s awash in green
& yellow pulsating colors
it taunted the blue heeler
                named
Simon simon ese who lunged
thereafter fishlike into the night
arcing its scaled torso in order
to bite the protoplasmic wings
                so make note
of this psychically attuned
defender i scratched on
the frosted car window
without looking around

4.

on a hot windy afternoon in
downtown why cheer he walked
across the street from where
the dime store used to be
                pointing
to a remnant column he said
ke me kwe ne ta ayo a be i yo e te ki?
do you recall what used to be here?
having just arrived from
                overseas
& wearing boots covered
with ochre grains of distant
battlefields he reached down
& crushed several into small
                clouds
that sped over the sidewalk
as i nodded yes

Originally published in the New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ray A. Young Bear. Used with the permission of the author.

Originally published in the New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ray A. Young Bear. Used with the permission of the author.

Ray Young Bear

In 1950, Ray Young Bear was born in the Meskwaki Tribal Settlement near Tama, Iowa

by this poet

poem

Small-eyed, plump, and with black
leathery hands, Attaskwa, is composed
          and debonair
as it perches on trampled cat tail reeds
beside a quivering, cloud-reflecting pond.
          “Filled
with cosmogony, he’s exceedingly
unselfish,” instructs the branch-shaping

poem

An immature black eagle walks assuredly
across a prairie meadow. He pauses in mid-step
with one talon over the wet snow to turn
around and see.

Imprinted in the tall grass behind him
are the shadows of his tracks,
claws instead of talons, the kind
that belongs to a massive bear.

poem
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