poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.



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)

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

For You, a Handful of the Greatest Gift

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.
with cosmogony, he’s exceedingly
unselfish,” instructs the branch-shaping
Wabami, Look at him, kekenetama,
he knows. And he’s elated to oversee
the daylight brings everyday.”
We focus the camera’s telephoto lens
          and see
details of his coat glittering with drops
of luminescent water.

“To our Grandfather, Kemettoemenana,”
narrates the sculpture, “he magnanimously
          agreed after
the Last Conflict of the Gods to retrieve
a handful of soil from the deep, singular
          ocean that
became land beneath our feet. He
set forth unequivocally a doctrine.
very closely, my grandchildren,
nottisemetike, for you may not hear
          these words
again.” Lifting its black nose
to the sky, Attaskwa ambles
          to the pond’s
edge and stops as if to pose
before the picture is snapped.
          Behind us,
the sculptor crafts a small
dome-shaped skeletal lodge
embeds it to the ground.

We wholly agree that each day
there are overt and minute changes.
          Even if we
don’t see or if we’re not there, it happens.
Without Muskrat, our Creation—you
          and me,
would be zero. From the alluvial soil
delivered from oceanic depths, we
          were made
thereafter. His courage is brazen like
that of a Wetase, Veteran, because he
unflinchingly to retrieve Earth.

Oblivious of our presence, Attaskwa
slides into the pond and swims
          to the middle,
creating a cape-like effect of waves
behind him that dissipates
          the blue sky
and its clouds. Indicative of his
sacrifice, we learn Attaskwa floated
to the surface. In gratitude Earth-maker
resurrected him. So when personal
are contemplated, ask yourself,
my daughter and son, what did I
Think specifically of what he did.
Use him, my children, netabenoemetike,
          as an example
of what must be done to rectify
society’s misdirection. Only then
          will our,
language, religion, culture, and history
thrive in the Muskrat’s benevolent

As he approaches the mound
of his home, Attaskwa looks back
          at us briefly.
And before his cape of waves reaches
the shoreline, he dives into the dark
          green pond.
Before we pack up the equipment,
the sculptor hands us sacred
to sprinkle delicately over
the water animal’s architectural

From Manifestation Wolverine. Copyright © 2015 by Ray A. Young Bear. Used with the permission of the author.

From Manifestation Wolverine. 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



today a truck
carrying a Tomahawk
missile reportedly tipped
over on the interstate
labelled an “unarmed warhead”
its fabulous smoke had to be
placated with priestlike
words being murmured by



Menwi – yakwatoni – beskonewiani.
Kyebakewina – maneniaki


Good-smelling are these flowers.
As it turned out, they were milkweeds


In the first place of my life
something which comes before all others
there is the sacred and holylike
recurring memory of an old teethless
bushy white-haired man
gesturing with his wrinkled hands
and squinty eyes for me to walk to him
sitting on the edge of his wooden