Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poetry Snack: In the Trail of the Wind

The Great Spirit is in all things, he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us...~Big Thunder (Bedagi) Wabanaki Algonquin
While walking the hallways of school in the moments before students begin arriving, I recently noticed an old friend looking back at me through the library's display window. Among a collection of "Thanksgiving-themed" tomes bathed in faux leaves and seasonal orange/yellow was a slender hard copy I had recalled buying myself almost 25(!) years ago: In The Trail of the Wind: American Indian Poems and Ritual Orations, edited by John Bierhorst, it remains one of those anthologies I keep on my bookshelf for the occasional poetry snack. Recalling my earlier mental note, upon arriving home, I  once again made time time to take a taste.

Even after so many years and selective re-reading, In the Trail of the Wind remains a go-to collection for easing my mind in moments such as these. Originally purchased from the Liftbridge Bookstore in Brockport, New York, during my undergraduate days, it remains a welcome read especially during the transitional autumn days from patchwork leaf piles to the white fluffiness of the first snowfall. The first of its kind, In the Trail of the Wind is a cross-cultural anthology that brings into focus the similarities between tribes as widely separated as the Sioux and the Aztec, the Cherokee and the ancient Maya.

In the Trail of the Wind is one of the books that has followed me from place to place, apartment to apartment, home to home. It was among my first introductions to the written record of the Native American oral tradition, a genre for which my appreciation has only grown. Here are two poetry selections accompanied by brief remarks:
This Newly Created World (Winnebago Traditional)

Pleasant it looked,
this newly created world.
Along the entire length and breadth
of the earth, our grandmother,
extended the green reflection
of her covering
and the escaping odors
were pleasant to inhale.
"...(the) extended green reflection" This line brings me back to the early summer mornings during which time would I regularly walk the dog or go for a run. At these times, usually between 4:30-6:00 a.m., the dew is still heavy on the grass and trees. Occassionally, you can see the reflection of the streetlights or moon on the lawns, "along (thier) entire length and breadth..."

"...the escaping odors/were pleasant to inhale." Think about your earliest memories... if you're like me, you don't always "remember" much until your senses are stimulated and the memories triggered. For me, the olfactory sense is strong and a simple odor can release a myriad memories, that might otherwise remain unrevealed. On a number of occasions I've walked through a mall, store or park, only to be sent backwards through picking up a passing scent...
The Lands Around My Dwelling (Eskimo Traditional)

The lands around my dwelling
Are more beautiful
From the day
When it is given me to see
Faces I have never seen before.
All is more beautiful,
All is more beautiful,
and life is thankfulness.
These guests of mine
Make my house grand.
How big is your "house?" Are the faces of those you don't know well, welcome in your house, and if not, how beautiful is your house? How much more beautiful and grand could it be if it were metaphorically larger and  literally, more inclusive?

My current sedentary state of activity is a bummer, but good organic poetry always makes me feel a (little) better and more motivated to get back out there, walking and moving beyond the school hallways. I am heartened that, as evidenced by its appearance in our school library's display case, In the Trail of the Wind continues to be available for purchase and, more appropriately here, borrowing. First published in 1972, at least twenty-five years before most of the students in the school were even born, it has been regularly revised and re-released since then. Here's to hoping that some student elects to choose it for their own reflective poetry snack...

Goodreads Entry

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